As a stimulant, it is considered a drug, though its global popularity might make us think otherwise. Caffeine increases dopamine signaling in the brain, which leads to a sense of alertness.
How much caffeine is beneficial and how much is too much? Whether you’re maneuvering for a morning cup of jo, slurping your soda or steeping your sweet tea on the back porch, you’re likely one of some 280 million Americans that consumes caffeine every single day. Is coffee good for you? Is there a safe limit on daily caffeine intake? Do the health and nutritional effects of caffeine outweigh any potential risks? Let’s find out.
Caffeine is a natural stimulant found primarily in coffee beans, tea leaves and cacao beans (the mother of chocolate) and any foods or beverages made from these. As a stimulant, it is considered a drug, though its global popularity might make us think otherwise. Caffeine increases dopamine signaling in the brain, which leads to a sense of alertness. According to James Lane, PhD, of Duke University Medical Center, caffeine “exaggerates the stress response. Caffeine locks the receptor normally used by adenosine, a brain modulator that provides feedback to avoid overstimulation of nerve cells.” Is this a problem? He continues, “If adenosine is locked up, nothing keeps the nervous system from getting too excited at a cellular level.”
People often form habits from drinking caffeinated beverages, whether that caffeine is naturally occurring (such as coffee, tea or in a kola nut) or added. Many people (if not most) consuming caffeinated products enjoy their energizing effects. Caffeine is also found in some prescription and over-the-counter medications, including pain relievers, diet medications and cold/flu remedies.
Natural Sources of Caffeine
Caffeine is an alkaloid found in the fruit, nut or leaves of as many as 60 plants. Some of the most popular include:
- Coffee bean
- Black tea leaf
- Green tea leaf
- Cacao beans (precursor of cocoa)
- Kola nut
- Guarana berries and seeds
- Yerba mate
What Makes Caffeine Work? One of the constituents in coffee beans, cafestol, may be responsible for coffee’s effects on the body.
How Much Caffeine Is in There??
|Food or Drink||Serving Size||Average amount of Caffeine (mg) [Range]|
|Coffee, filtered||8.4 fl. oz.||170 [120-270]|
|Espresso||2 fl. oz.||120 [70-200]|
|Decaf Coffee||8.4 fl. oz.||6 [2-10]|
|Tea (bag or leaves)||8.4 fl. oz.||64 [40-90]|
|Iced Tea||10 fl. oz.||40 [20-100]|
|Hot cocoa||10 fl. oz.||8 [4-14]|
|Soda (caffeinated, regular or sugar-free)||11.2 fl. oz.||40 [26-57]|
|Energy Drinks (Monster, Red Bull)||11.2 fl. oz.||80 [70-120]|
|5-Hour Energy||2 fl. oz.||215|
|Chocolate Bar||2 oz. (60 g)||40 [10-72]|
|Milk Chocolate||2 oz. (60 g)||12 [2-30]|
|Dark Chocolate||2 oz. (60 g)||120 [40-240]|
NOTE: Serving sizes vary widely. What size coffee or soda do you normally drink? How large is the chocolate bar you’re eating? Some labels don’t reveal how much caffeine is in the product.
Frequently Asked QuestionsIs Caffeine Good for You? Caffeine offers a variety of health benefits. It is probably best known to promote alertness or energy. Caffeine increases wakefulness, helps diminish fatigue and may improve concentration, memory and focus. Some studies suggest that caffeine offers benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease or liver disease. Other research holds that coffee (which contains a fair amount of caffeine) is good for you, as drinking it may help prevent type II diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and liver disease. Limited data shows that moderate intake of caffeine (2.5 mg/kg body weight per day) may benefit cognitive function and sports performance.
Caffeine or No Caffeine…That Is the Question
EnergySolstic Energy—Reduce fatigue and increase mental focus with this nutritive formula that features guarana (a natural source of caffeine) plus B vitamins, Korean ginseng, green tea and more. (approx. 60 mg caffeine per serving). Re-energize anywhere. Just pour into your water bottle, shake and drink.
Nature’s Sunshine Rejuvenaid—Improve energy production, blood flow and cardio health with this clinically studied combination of nutrients that produce greater levels of nitric oxide. Features l-arginine and red beet root along with key antioxidants. Pour into water, mix and drink.
Ultra Therm™—Rev up your metabolism, support physical endurance and break down fat while you increase your calorie burn. Ultra Therm is a powerful combination of green coffee bean extract, green tea leaf extract, guarana seed extract and yerba mate leaf extract. (75 mg caffeine per capsule)
Ultra Therm CF—Our caffeine-free version features rhodiola root extract, decaffeinated green coffee bean extract, decaffeinated green tea leaf extract and a proprietary blend of garcinia and other herbs to support calorie burning and aid the breakdown of body fat.
What Does Too Much Caffeine Do to You? Too much caffeine can interfere with regular sleep patterns, which over time leads to sleep deprivation. This can affect your work performance and cause daytime drowsiness or lack of alertness. On a more serious note, some studies have found that consuming too much caffeine may lead to high blood pressure, high blood sugar and lower bone density. In decades past, some research found a relationship between caffeine consumption and coronary heart disease. But more recent studies and meta-analyses do not show a link between coffee consumption and a higher cardiovascular risk.
What Are the Symptoms of Too Much Caffeine?
Consuming too much coffee or caffeine can cause physical effects, including:
- Increased heart rate
- Frequent urination
- Headaches including migraine
- Muscle tremors or twitches
Can People Abuse Caffeine?
In the last 10-15 years, the abuse of caffeine has risen among the younger generation and is most closely tied to caffeine pills, powders and liquids, but it may also be linked to caffeinated energy drinks. Symptoms of caffeine abuse may include tremors, nausea, insomnia, vomiting, chest pains, heart palpitations and more. People experiencing these symptoms should seek medical help immediately.
Is Caffeine Addictive?
According to Roland R. Griffiths, PhD, a veteran researcher and professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, “There’s no question. Caffeine does produce dependence, and caffeine withdrawal is a real syndrome.” But others in the field disagree, including George Koob, PhD, of The Scripps Research Institute.
At What Point Does Caffeine Become Dangerous?
Moderate doses of caffeine are safe for most people. However, even a little caffeine can make some people feel jittery. If you’re not a regular consumer of it, one cup of coffee or one large caffeinated soda may make you feel over-energized. Other factors influence a person’s sensitivity to caffeine. These include weight, age (children, teens and the elderly are likely more susceptible to the negative side of caffeine), medications/supplements you currently take (including theophylline, ephedrine and even echinacea) and genetics.
Up to 400 mg caffeine per day seems to be safe for most adults. That’s 2–3 cups of coffee, 10 cans of soft drink or about 3 energy drinks. Caffeine levels can vary widely by product or brand, so make sure you check labels to know how much caffeine you are consuming.
Can You Overdose on Caffeine?
Yes. In some circumstances, consuming too much caffeine can lead to an overdose and even prove fatal. Some people have a lower tolerance for caffeine, and since no one knows ahead of time his/her tolerance, caution should be used in consuming larger quantities. Caffeine pills and other concentrated forms are especially dangerous.
What about Caffeine Powder and Liquid Caffeine?
These highly concentrated forms of caffeine, sold as dietary supplements and/or fitness products, are extremely dangerous and should be considered caffeine hazards. How concentrated are they? Let’s put it this way: one teaspoon of pure caffeine powder provides the same levels of caffeine as 28 cups of coffee! People who ask, “How much coffee is too much?” can agree that 28 cups is too much.
Risks of use include injury and death. In April 2018, the Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of some pure caffeine products like bulk powders, but pills, tablets and premeasured packets are still allowed.
- Caffeine should never be mixed with alcohol.
- Caffeine should not be mixed with other stimulants.
- Pregnant women, women who are trying to conceive and those who are breastfeeding should limit caffeine intake.
Is Caffeine Safe for Children?
According to the Mayo Clinic, caffeine is not a good idea for children. Adolescents should limit caffeine consumption. One review on caffeine found that children and adolescents who consumed more than 5 mg/kg of body weight per day had an increased risk of anxiety and caffeine withdrawal symptoms. That said, there is little data on the long-term effects of regular caffeine intake on the developing body and mind.
How Can I Reduce My Caffeine Intake?
Slowing your intake can present a bit of a challenge. That’s because quitting cold turkey can cause withdrawal symptoms like irritability, headache, fatigue and lack of focus. Though annoying, they usually dissipate after a few days.
Tips for Success:
- Monitor your intake
- Reduce your consumption gradually
- Try decaf
- If you’re a tea drinker, try an herbal tea instead
- Choose pain relievers that are caffeine-free