I was sitting in with one of my favorite patients today and she asked me the questions of how much caffeine is too much? I thought “self, this is a good topic to share with the public”. So, let’s talk about caffeine.
First, let’s get straight the main sources of caffeine & how much each source contains:
* An average cup of tea (6 Fl oz) contains around 50 mgs of caffeine.
* An average cup (6 Fl oz) of instant coffee contains around 70-100 mgs. Instant decaffeinated coffee contains about 3 mgs.
* A 6 oz cup of espresso coffee (much larger than the normal cafe cup, incidentally) contains about 80-90 mgs. A single-hit cappuccino will contain the same amount.
* Filter coffee (called ‘drip’ in the US) can contain 25-50% more caffeine than instant.
* A 340 ml or 12 oz can of regular or diet cola contains between 35 and 45 mgs. of caffeine depending on the brand
* Some so-called ‘energy drinks’ contain very high doses of caffeine – equivalent to to 4 or more cups of strong coffee in one dose! (3)
* One ounce or 28 grams of chocolate contains about 10-15 mgs .
Note that it takes as little as 20mgs of caffeine to have an effect on the body.
So what are some of these reported effects (research based) on the body?
Caffeine has been reported to cause the following adverse effects:
1. Stimulates your heart, respiratory system, and central nervous system.
2. Makes your blood more `sludgy’ by raising the level of fatty acids in the blood.
3. Causes messages to be passed along your nervous system more quickly
Raises blood pressure
4. Causes your stomach to produce more acid and Irritates the stomach lining
5. Makes digestion less effective by relaxing the muscles of your intestinal system
6. Its diuretic effect caused increased urination
7. Stimulates the cortex of your brain heightening the intensity of mental activity. This can result in a temporary feeling of alertness and, in the short term, which banishes drowsiness and feelings of fatigue. But keep in mind this is a temporary effect (i.e. the reason people sometimes need to drink multiple cups of coffee a day). In those who already have high levels of anxiety the heightened intensity of mental activity can produce unpleasant effects.
8. Affects the length and quality of sleep. Heavy caffeine drinkers may suffer from prolonged sleep-deprivation because their nervous system is too stimulated to allow them deep, restful sleep.
9. The American Medical Journal has reported a correlation between caffeine and decreased bone density or osteoporosis in women.
In addition to the above effects prolonged or very heavy caffeine use can produce the following:
1. Jittery feeling with shaking hands, palpitations, and wobbliness in the legs.
2. Nervousness, irritability, agitation, headaches or ringing in the ears.
3. Causes your adrenal glands to release their hormones into your bloodstream
So why do you get that ‘boost’ when you drink your cup of Joe?
Caffeine causes blood sugar, or blood glucose, to be released from storage through the effects of the adrenal hormones. This gives you a temporary lift but requires your pancreas to over-work. This is because your pancreas now has to produce extra insulin to reduce this extra blood sugar. Once the extra insulin has ‘mopped up’ the extra blood sugar your temporary lift from the caffeine ends. Your vitality level is back to normal (or sometimes it results in a mid morning or afternoon “crash”). However in heavy caffeine users the pancreas, in time, becomes over-sensitive and over-zealous. Now it begins producing too much insulin – it ‘mops up’ not just the excess blood sugar but the blood sugar you need to feel alert and energetic. The initial effect of this is a let-down effect and a craving for more caffeine to give you a further boost. A later effect can be excessive and chronic tiredness, even on waking in the morning. Some people find that many of the psychological complaints common to reactive hypoglycaemia (the emotional yo-yo effect, shakiness, palpitations, weakness, tiredness, etc.) disappear within a few days of stopping caffeine.
So, it’s clear that the overuse of caffeine is unhealthy and even dangerous in some cases!
BUT WAIT!!! There are some beneficial uses for caffeine in moderation.
1. Caffeine also Stimulates blood circulation
2. For people who have migraines, caffeine can used to take the edge off and even sometimes get rid of the migraine because of it’s vaso-constrictive properties (the same properties that can cause high blood pressure with overuse, so be careful).
So, then how much caffeine is too much caffeine?
This is where it we get a gray area in our research. There has been no consensus on exactly what doses of caffeine is harmful to the body on a daily basis. What the data is clear on is that chronic daily use of caffeine does result in addiction, and that if you cut that coffee “cold turkey” you will experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, drowsiness, lethargy, irritability, trembling, restlessness, and reduced concentration. The bottom line is this: Caffeine affects each person differently. Some people (like myself) are extremely sensitive and will experience extreme effects such as irritability, insomnia and palpitations with the minimum effective dosage (20mg). Others, have a bit more tolerance to it, and can drink a cup of coffee before bedtime with no problem.
What are my recommendations?
I strongly recommend to avoid daily usage of caffeine when possible. A cup of coffee, cocoa, or tea in the morning, afternoon, or evening (for those who can tolerate that) will probably not hurt. But when you begin to get into 2-3 cups of caffeinated beverages every day, you will start to experience the adverse effects over time. Especially for those who suffer chronic migraines, daily usage should be avoided, however a cup at the beginning of a migraine could be the thing that saves the day.
What else will give me energy and keep me alert, then?
Exercise: Exercise increases the circulation to all parts of the body including the brain. Research shows that it increases alertness and energy.
Yoga: Two reasons that yoga increases energy and focus are the breathing (increased oxygen capacity and circulation), and the meditation component. When we are less stressed we have more energy and are able to be more focused.
A strong multi-vitamin or a B-complex vitamin if you are already taking a multiVit
Cutting down refined sugar, and refined carbohydrates: A diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar causes the pancreas to overwork just as the caffeine does, resulting in that “itis” or crash and in the long run chronic fatigue
Juicing or eating more vegetables: Juicing (or blending) is a great way to give yourself a shot of energy in the morning or any time of the day. Vegetables themselves (especially the darker green ones) have the nutrients (B-Viamins and minerals) that carry oxygen tot he brain and rest of the body. In addition, dark green veggies have the enzymes and co-factors that help keep your body’s bio-chemisty in check at the cellular level.
Conclusion: If you are a pot a day (or even 3 cup a day) caffeine junkie, think about cutting down or weaning off completely. There are several ways to do so, including diluting your full caffeine product with decaf until you can drink a fully decaffeinated drink. Switching to Green tea which still contains a little caffeine but is a great antioxidant. Trying other teas like Yerba Mate (again in moderation as it’s overuse has been found to cause bladder cancer), or Tulsi Tea (a non-caffeinated drink that give you energy).
If you are only a “one-a-day” drinker, just be mindful of how you are affected. If you notice changes in your mood, sleeping pattern, or energy level, you might want to also consider cutting back until you are no longer feeling the adverse effects.
To make an appointment to coach or consult with Dr. Clairborne, visit www.backtobasicshealing.com.