January 21, 2023
Besides water, coffee is the most consumed beverage in the world, with around two billion (yes, billion with a B!) cups enjoyed every single day. Once maligned as a drink that is not really good for you, coffee has made its way back into the “good for you” column, as it’s full of antioxidants and other health-promoting compounds.
Moderate daily coffee drinking has been associated with lower risk of developing a variety of chronic health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, depression, Parkinson’s and even a lower risk of liver and endometrial (lining of the uterus) cancers. But what exactly is “moderate” consumption?
According to the FDA (the U.S. Federal Drug Administration) that amount is about four to five cups of coffee, which equals around 400 milligrams of caffeine, although they do admit that caffeine sensitivity varies widely from person to person, generally related to how fast you metabolize caffeine. Plus, under certain conditions, you can become more sensitive to caffeine than usual. For example, some medications can cause caffeine sensitivity to increase, such as the asthma medication theophylline as well as some herbal supplements like ephedrine and echinacea. About 10% of people seem almost immune to caffeine’s effects and apparently carry a gene allowing them to consume large amounts of caffeine without ill effects.
Plus, you need to take into consideration other sources of caffeine that you may be overlooking, such as that found in tea (both green and black) which contains 30 to 50 mg per 8 ounce cup, caffeinated soft drinks that usually contain 30 to 40 milligrams per serving, and so called “energy drinks” that can have a caffeine content ranging from 40 to a whopping 250 mg in each 8 ounce serving. Even decaf coffee has some caffeine, typically 2 to 15 mg per 8 ounces. This is important to know if you are especially sensitive. Plus, many over the counter pain relievers contain caffeine as well.
The effects of too much caffeine can lead to trouble falling asleep, feeling jittery and anxious, a fast heart rate, a headache, and upset stomach and nausea. Some people can even experience a feeling of unhappiness, known as dysphoria, as the result of too much caffeine. The caffeine in coffee can also hang around a long time. The caffeine level in your bloodstream reaches its peak approximately one hour after you have consumed it and, for the majority of people, remains at this level for several hours. Six hours after you have had that cup of coffee, half of the caffeine in it is still in your body. It’s only after about ten hours that the caffeine completely clears the bloodstream.
Pure concentrated caffeine is dangerous to consume. Rapid consumption of 1,200 mg can be quite toxic and may result in seizures or other harmful effects. One teaspoon of pure caffeine in powdered form can have the same amount of caffeine as 28 cups of coffee! Some dietary weight loss supplements and other products containing high amounts of caffeine have been pulled off the market due to toxic effects. Needless to say, children should not be given drinks or foods containing caffeine.
Even though caffeine is a stimulant and helps you temporarily feel awake and alert, drinking coffee should not be used as a substitute for sleep. Remember that it can take your body anywhere from 4 to 6 hours to metabolize just half of what you have consumed, so having that cup of coffee after dinner may very well keep you awake when it’s time for bed.
So yes, enjoy your coffee but have it early in the day, and limit your total intake to no more than 3-4 cups. If you are caffeine sensitive, less is better.