Caffeine: How Much is too Much?

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We’re all guilty of it. A cup of coffee to help bring us out of sleep in the morning. A caffeinated beverage in the afternoon to get us through that dreaded three o’clock slump. A little caffeine never hurt anyone, right? Depends on who you ask.

Andrew Deno says she regularly had two or more cups of a coffee a day and caffeinated tea at lunch but in addition to giving her a jolt of energy, the beverages did something else.

“I feel a lot more tightness in my chest, a lot more heart palpitations,” she says. “If I’m nervous about anything, it can be over the top if I consume too much caffeine.”

Dr. David Zich of Northwestern Medicine says Deno isn’t alone.

“It is, in general, harmless but these people who do encounter more problems with palpitations and sometimes even anxiety … are probably best to limit their caffeine intake,” he says.

According to the FDA, 80 percent of adults in the U.S. consume caffeinated drinks to stay energized throughout the day. Dr. Zich says if you don’t overdo it, caffeine can actually provide some benefits to the user.

“As a stimulant it increases our awareness, it increases our concentration, and it can decrease our fatigue,” he says. “The problem is if you get too much, then you get an adrenaline surge which can cause a whole number of problems.”

Problems including but not limited to stomach upset and cramping, chest discomfort, jitteriness, anxiety, and those palpitations Deno experienced.

As a general rule, a cup of coffee you brew at home is about 8 oz. and contains between 80 and 100 milligrams of caffeine. Dr. Zich says the average American consumes about 200-300 milligrams of caffeine a day but anything more than that is where issues start to occur.

Above all, Dr. Zich urges people to take a good hard look at why they’re drinking caffeine to make sure they aren’t using it to mask other health issues like fatigue or lack of sleep.


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