We know that too much caffeine can be bad for us. But between the recent school ban First energy drinks and the death of a teenager due to Panera’s highly caffeinated lemonade (and the subsequent process of his relatives), many people just asked how Is that much caffeine too much? How much do you need to drink to be in danger of overdosing?
We consulted two nutritionists for their expertise on all things caffeine. Here’s everything you need to know about what’s in your morning coffee, and whether you should think twice before grabbing that 3pm Diet Coke.
What caffeine does to you
Caffeine is a chemical stimulant found “naturally in plants such as coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans and guarana berries,” said Ally Mast, RDN. Many of us consume it in drinks that extract it directly, such as coffee or tea. It is also extracted in laboratories and added to beverages such as sodas, energy drinks, sports supplements and medications.
When it hits our system, caffeine increases our alertness and decreases fatigue, at least temporarily. Kim Yawitz, RD, owner of Two Six Fitness in St. Louis, said it “increases activity in the central nervous system and speeds up the frequency of communication between the brain and the rest of the body.” According to Mast, it also prevents us from being tired by “blocking adenosine receptors”, which are sensors that track the accumulation of adenosine in our body throughout the day and signal us to be sleepy. Mast said that “only sleep clears that adenosine. Caffeine doesn’t give you energy, it just delays fatigue a little longer. In other words, that 2 pm cup of coffee is just delaying the inevitable.
At first, caffeine might seem like a great performance enhancer. Mast said it can “cause people to feel motivated (and) focused” and also “improve learning, be protective against depression, enhance physical performance, and increase metabolism.” But according to Yawitz, “having too much can lead to anxiety, insomnia, diarrhea, nervousness, a rapid heart rate, and other unpleasant side effects.” And, in very extreme cases, death.
So how much should we drink?
The FDA’s recommendations regarding daily caffeine consumption for adults are not encouraging. I know report 2023 says that 400 milligrams a day is “an amount not generally associated with dangerous and negative effects.”
Hmm. “No in general associate”? It’s not reassuring. That’s the amount of caffeine in about four eight-ounce cups of coffee. A single can of Prime energy drink contains 200 mg of caffeine.
The FDA is also quick to remind us that there is a “wide variation in how sensitive people are to the effects of caffeine and how quickly they metabolize it. [break it down].” In other words, what isn’t too much caffeine for you might be too much for someone else.
So there are other factors to consider. According to Yawitz, women who are pregnant and breastfeeding “may need to limit caffeine to 200 milligrams per day, simply because babies don’t have the enzymes needed to metabolize it.” Mast also said that people with anxiety disorders and heart conditions should limit their caffeine consumption because of the way the stimulant can “increase anxiety, agitation, (and) blood pressure.” blood and cause palpitations.” Those with gastroesophageal reflux disease should also stay away, as caffeine can “exacerbate reflux symptoms.”
Children are a completely separate category. U American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry strongly discourages caffeine consumption for any child under the age of 12. Teenagers are a little different. According to Yawitz, “most healthy teenagers can safely consume up to 100 milligrams of caffeine each day,” which is basically 24 ounces of soda or an eight-ounce cup of coffee. Or half a can of Prime energy drink.
To Caffeinate or Not to Caffeinate?
Since everyone is different, there is no absolute answer to the question of how much caffeine is too much. Except for specific conditions, most adults are probably safe with the FDA’s 400 mg per day guideline. It’s just important to be careful about how much you consume, and also when you consume it. The morning coffee habit is fine, as long as you are careful about how much you drink. Remember that eight ounces of coffee contains about 100 mg of caffeine, and that your favorite cup probably contains at least 12 ounces. A 3 pm can of diet soda is also fine, as long as you keep in mind that those 46 mg of caffeine can keep you alert for 8-10 hours. No one wants to be awake at 2 am on a weekday night.
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