Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in various plants, including coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans, and kola nuts. People have been consuming caffeinated drinks for several thousand years, including herbal tonics with adaptogens that complement or replace caffeine, like Siberian ginseng.
Many parts of the world rely on caffeine to get us going in the morning and keep us sharp throughout the day. In fact, we’ve become so reliant on caffeine that worldwide we drink around three billion cups of coffee each day.
Most US adults consume at least one caffeinated beverage daily, which helps us stay alert, focused and energized. However, many people drink a lot more than just one coffee or energy drink. When you add that to the caffeine consumed through chocolate, sodas and other foods and beverages, it’s no wonder caffeine pitfalls like angst, jitters, irritability, and a fast heartbeat have become more common.
Caffeine is like anything else – moderation is key. Plus, there are other caffeine-acting plants that might be better for your wellbeing and don’t carry the risks that consuming too much caffeine does. Still, a good cup of espresso never hurt anyone. Four double shots might, though… she writes, as she reaches for her second latte of the day.
Let’s look at the dangers of consuming too much caffeine, what to do if you experience side effects, how to reduce your caffeine intake and still have energy throughout the day, and how to find the best morning coffee alternative.
How Does Caffeine Work?
Caffeine is a central nervous system agonist, which means that it increases the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain. More precisely, it binds to specific receptors that receive I'm-tired signals, blocking that neurotransmitter from doing its job.
When the I'm-tired neurotransmitter binds to its receptors, it makes us feel more relaxed and sleepy. Caffeine blocks these effects, and it also increases the activity of wake-up and zone-in neurotransmitters.
At the same time, caffeine catalyzes a false stress response by telling your brain to release its fight-flight-freeze signalers. This floods your bloodstream with pro-stress hormones. As a result, we feel more wakeful and alert, which is why we drink coffee and energy drinks to combat fatigue.
One of the biggest advantages of caffeine is that it works pretty quickly. The effects start to kick in only 30 minutes after consuming a caffeinated beverage, but the energizing effects can last for hours.
Caffeine also affects our metabolism, blood pressure and heart rate. Although these effects are often positive in people who consume low to moderate amounts of caffeine, overdoing it can lead to problems like temporarily elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate and metabolic issues.
How Much Caffeine is Too Much?
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), and Health Canada, consuming up to 400mg of caffeine per day is safe for healthy adults. That’s four or five cups of coffee, around 10 soft drinks, or 1-2 energy drinks. However, you have to remember that different foods contain different amounts of caffeine, and everything counts towards your daily intake. That includes chocolates, sodas, coffee, tea, supplements, and all other caffeinated products.
Going over 400mg per day (or even smaller amounts for people sensitive to caffeine) could lead to jitters, elevated heart rate, feeling overwhelmed, and other negative sensations. People who experience them frequently should cut back on caffeine or seek a substitute for tea and coffee. Believe it or not, you can OD on caffeine, which carries real and dangerous threats to your cardiovascular system.
Although 400mg per day is safe for most healthy adults, the amount of caffeine that is considered “too much” varies from person to person. Some people are more sensitive to its effects because of factors like age, body weight, health status, and frequency of use.
Genetics also plays a significant role. For example, variations in the CYP1A2 gene determine how quickly our bodies metabolize caffeine, which regulates how long caffeine stays in our bodies and how long we feel its effects.
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Should People Who Are Pregnant and Breastfeeding Consume Caffeine?
The general recommendation for people who are pregnant and breastfeeding is to limit their caffeine intake. That’s because caffeine can cross the placenta and enter the bloodstream of a developing fetus. So, consuming too much of this stimulant could lead to negative outcomes on growth and development, including premature birth and low birth weight.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that pregnant women consume no more than 200mg of caffeine per day, which is about the amount of caffeine in one 16-ounce cup of coffee. But some pregnant people can be more sensitive than others. That’s why it is vital to talk to a healthcare provider about caffeine consumption and be aware of the amount of its presence in different foods and drinks.
People who are breastfeeding can consume moderate amounts of caffeine. However, they should limit it to 300mg per day or less. Get that milk too hopped up and you and your little one are going to have a sleepless night.
Can Children Consume Caffeine?
It is generally not recommended for children to consume caffeine. Caffeine can have several effects on the developing body and brain, which is why children shouldn’t drink caffeinated beverages, especially on a regular basis. It can even permanently stunt growth.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises that children and adolescents should avoid caffeine and related substances as much as possible, especially during early childhood. There is no proven safe dose for children, so kids under 12 shouldn’t consume caffeine. For children and adolescents aged 12-18, consuming up to 100mg of caffeine per day is considered safe.
What Are the Side Effects of Consuming Too Much Caffeine?
Most people are well aware of the consequences of consuming more caffeine than they can tolerate. The most common complaint is the crash people experience a few hours after drinking coffee. It happens because caffeine blocks your I'm-tired receptors, but only temporarily. When the caffeine wears off and isn't blocking those receptors anymore, I'm-tired signalers come flooding to their receptors, making people feel tired, which is why they experience a “crash.”
Other not-so-great consequences of too much caffeine can include:
- Increased heart rate
- Poor recovery
- Digestive problems
- Frequent urination
- A general feeling of unhappiness
- Muscle tremors
Why Does Too Much Caffeine Cause Jitters & Overthinking?
Caffeine recruits the sympathetic nervous system to trigger the release of hormones that manage stress response. Think of it as a false fight-or-flight. As a result, too much caffeine can overstimulate the brain, causing stress, nervousness, jitters, or shaking.
In addition, this false stress response causes a short-term rise in blood pressure and heart rate. The important thing is that these effects usually have no long-term consequences for people who consume caffeinated beverages in moderation.
How Does Caffeine Affect Your Sleep/Wake Cycle?
We love caffeine because it helps us stay awake and alert. However, many people fall into a vicious cycle of trying to compensate for lack of adequate nightly rest with caffeinated beverages. The most common mistakes are consuming too much caffeine or doing it too close to bedtime. As a result, people feel more restless at night, which makes it harder to recover from the stresses of the day.
Drinking caffeinated beverages in the afternoon is not a good idea because our bodies need up to five hours on average to clear most of the caffeine, and 8-10 hours to eliminate all of it. So, having a coffee or an energy drink to power through an afternoon work or studying session may not be worth it because it can interfere with your sleep schedule.
One study examining caffeine’s effect on sleep revealed that consuming caffeine three or six hours before bedtime considerably disrupts sleep. In fact, the results showed that consuming 400mg of caffeine six hours before bedtime reduced total sleep time by one hour. This is a significant loss, so it is crucial to avoid drinking caffeinated drinks too late in the day.
Does Caffeine Exacerbate Digestive Problems like IBS?
For many people, that morning cup of coffee is what gets the bowels moving. That’s because coffee has a laxative effect that triggers the release of gastrin. This hormone plays a central role in digestion, so small or moderate amounts of coffee can improve bowel movement.
However, too much caffeine could overstimulate the stomach, small intestine, and colon, leading to gas problems, diarrhea, loose stools, heartburn, and nausea.
Tips for Safe Caffeine Consumption
Avoiding side effects like jitters, clammy hands and nervousness requires following some tips for safe caffeine consumption. Here are the most important things:
- Know Your Limits.
Although the general recommendation states that people shouldn’t consume more than 400mg per day, some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. As a result, they may experience side effects at lower doses. That’s why it is vital to understand your limits and cut back on caffeinated beverages and foods if you experience negative effects.
- Read Labels.
People should be aware of the amount of caffeine coming from different sources. That includes coffee, tea, sodas, energy drinks, chocolate, medications, caffeine supplements, and other foods and products. Reading the labels could help you understand how much caffeine you consume each day. If the number is too high, consider cutting back.
- Don’t Consume Caffeine Late in the Day.
Caffeine can interfere with your circadian rhythm, making people feel even more tired the next day. As a result, they may seek more caffeine, which puts them in an endless cycle of poor sleep and exhaustion. If you want to avoid this, try not to consume caffeine too close to bedtime.
- Talk to a Healthcare Provider
People who are pregnant/breastfeeding, people with chronic conditions, and people taking certain medications often need to limit their caffeine intake. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare provider and learn more about how caffeine interacts with different medications and conditions.
- If You Want to Quit Caffeine, Do It Gradually
Quitting caffeine cold turkey can result in withdrawal symptoms like overwhelming awareness, distress, nausea, and headaches. The best way to prevent these side effects is to lower caffeine intake gradually. People usually do that by choosing decaf options for coffee and avoiding sodas, foods, and other beverages containing caffeine.
While you’re at it, find some alternatives to coffee and caffeine that will do more than speed you up for a bit and leave you crashing. Nature’s got some other things to offer:
How to Stay Awake Without Coffee: What Are Healthy Caffeine Alternatives?
Another not-so-great thing about caffeine is that people who drink it daily build tolerance. As a result, they have to go for a higher dose to achieve the same wakefulness and focus-boosting effects, which increases the chances of experiencing adverse feelings. Unfortunately, that’s not sustainable in the long run.
So, if you want to detox from coffee and find healthy caffeine alternatives, you have several choices. First, you can try to improve your diet, become more active, and implement healthy sleep habits. However, these things take time, so if you need something with more immediate support that also supports your long-term journey, try MTE.
MTE (More Than Energy) is our all-natural wellness supplement in powder form that combines nootropics, adaptogens and superfoods to achieve a more sustainable energy boost. Natural ingredients with centuries of use behind them, like ashwagandha, spirulina and maca all support sustainable energy without the complications of excessive caffeine.
MTE is a special formulation that supports your mood, promotes calm energy, and helps you restore balance. Most importantly, it doesn’t leave you nervous, jittery, and crashing after a few hours. Interested in what makes MTE so special? Learn more about our unique formulation, including an ingredient that provides all the benefits of caffeine and more without causing annoying side effects.