October 04, 2023
If coffee, tea, or some other caffeinated beverage is part of your daily routine, you’re far from alone. A study found that 85 percent of all Americans consume at least one beverage containing caffeine every day.
Here’s the lowdown on it, the ways it effects your body, and how you can safely take advantage of its ability to put some pep in your step.
Caffeine is a bitter substance that is naturally found in more than 60 plants, including tea leaves and coffee and cocoa beans. It can also be produced synthetically in a lab. In its pure processed or manufactured form, caffeine is a white powder that can be added to food, beverages, and medicines.
The caffeine in beverages is quickly absorbed by your stomach. It then dissolves in your body’s fat and water molecules and crosses into your brain, where it affects your central nervous system.
Caffeine usually reaches its peak level in your blood in 15 minutes to two hours, but it can remain in your system for much longer. That’s why the recommended cut-off time for consuming anything containing caffeine is at least eight hours before bedtime.
Caffeine provides a quick energy boost because it stimulates your central nervous system.
When you’re awake, your body produces a chemical called adenosine. The chemical binds to cells in your brain called receptors, slowing your neural activity, and making your feel tired.
Caffeine binds to the same receptors as adenosine, but has no effect on brain activity. However, the number of receptors available for adenosine to bind to are reduced by the caffeine, which causes your neural activity to speed up. It also causes a relative increase in chemicals that benefit your mood and brain functioning, such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
Consuming up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is generally safe for most adults. To put this in perspective, that’s about:
• Four cups of coffee
• Eight cups of tea
• 10 cans of cola
• Five-and-a-half cups of a typical energy drink
• A little less than two full energy shots
Consuming too much caffeine can make you anxious, jittery, and/or nauseous. It can also speed up your heart rate, upset your stomach, and cause dehydration, headaches, and/or insomnia. Rapidly consuming an excessive amount of caffeine (approximately 1,200 milligrams or 0.15 tablespoons of pure caffeine) can cause seizures. Consuming too much caffeine can even be fatal, although this happens very rarely.
Ask a health care provider about limiting your caffeine consumption if you:
• Are pregnant or breastfeeding
• Have a sleep disorder
• Experience anxiety
• Get migraines or other headaches
• Have arrhythmia and/or high blood pressure
• Take medicines and/or supplements it might interact with
Cutting back on caffeine should be viewed as a process. Quitting caffeine cold turkey can cause miserable withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, drowsiness, irritability, trouble concentrating, and nausea.
The best way to avoid these symptoms is to gradually reduce your daily caffeine intake. If you drink four cups of coffee every day, begin by limiting yourself to only three cups or replacing the fourth cup with decaf. After a week goes by, try cutting out another cup.
You can also try swapping highly caffeinated drinks with tea. Black tea has about half the amount of caffeine found in a typical cup of coffee, and green tea has even less.
Staying hydrated can also help you successfully kick a caffeine habit. Replacing cold caffeinated beverages with water can make the transition easier and will help your body naturally flush the caffeine out of your system.
Caffeine can have pleasant and uplifting effects when it’s consumed in moderation. If you’re experiencing any of the side effects associated with consuming too much caffeine, you may want to consider cutting back gradually or swapping out your current beverage of choice with a lower caffeine option.