Do you start the day with a cup of coffee? Many people need a jolt of caffeine to help get them up and about and on their way to work. But some people go on to sip a few more cups once they get to the office and then another few after lunch. Some do this day after day. Are they putting their health at risk? How much caffeine is too much?
The health benefits and risks of drinking coffee
Caffeinated beverages such as coffee aren’t all bad. In fact, research shows that coffee drinkers enjoy a lower risk of some diseases such as gallstones, Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, and too much caffeine can cause unpleasant side-effects such as anxiety, palpitations, tremors, elevated blood pressure and insomnia. It’s also not a healthy drink for people with uncontrolled high blood pressure or heart disease.
How much caffeine does it take to cause problems?
It depends on the individual and their level of tolerance to caffeine. If you drink coffee every day, you’ll gradually develop a tolerance to its effects. This is because caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in the brain that cause drowsiness, but the brain produces more of these receptors over time so the effects become less pronounced. The risk of side-effects is greater if you consume more than 500 milligrams of caffeine a day, which would be the equivalent of about 4 to 6 cups a day. For that reason, it’s best to limit caffeinated coffee to no more than 4 cups a day.
As mentioned, over time, the brain responds to continuous caffeine exposure by producing more adenosine receptors, and the effects of caffeine become less pronounced. If you stop drinking caffeinated beverages abruptly after being a regular coffee-drinker, you may experience withdrawal symptoms including irritability, difficulty concentrating, headache, sleepiness and fatigue. This usually happens to people who drink five or more cups a day and then suddenly quit. People who drink caffeinated coffee regularly at work and then stop on the weekends sometimes have withdrawal headaches and difficulty sleeping.
Coffee and indigestion
A significant number of people experience nausea or heartburn when they drink coffee. Drinking caffeinated beverages such as coffee stimulates acid production and can make digestive problems worse. If you happen to have pre-existing problems with heartburn, drinking coffee and other caffeinated beverages can aggravate them. Some people have chronic indigestion and don’t realize it’s coming from all of the coffee they drink.
Be satisfied with less
You’ve heard the saying about “everything in moderation.” This applies to caffeine and coffee consumption too. Limit caffeinated coffee to four cups or less each day, and space them out rather than drinking them all in the morning. Switch caffeinated coffee for decaf for half of the cups you drink to reduce your caffeine load.
Watch the sugar too. It’s easy to turn a calorie-free cup of coffee into a dessert drink if you add a ton of sugar. Drink four of those a day, and you may tip the scales a little too high. That’s not good for health management. If you want sugar without the calories, use a natural, calorie-free sweetener like Stevia instead of sugar and substitute skim milk for whole milk. The calorie savings will add up.
The bottom line
Coffee has health benefits, but don’t overdo it. Chances are you’ll feel better if you’re not always under the influence of a caffeine buzz.