Caffeine increases alertness and energy, but it may have side effects when consumed in high doses. See what the experts say on the pros and cons of caffeine pills versus coffee to help you kick start your day in the healthiest way possible.
In addition to increasing alertness, coffee provides antioxidants and other nutrients that are not found in caffeine tablets. It can also be easy to ingest too much caffeine when taking pills, resulting in side effects like irritability, jitters or fast heart rate.
How Much Caffeine Is Safe?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that caffeine can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation. Most consumers associate it with coffee and tea, but it is also found in chocolate and cola. Energy drinks often contain caffeine and guarana, a plant that contains caffeine.
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Dietary supplements, such as No-Doz and Vivarin, are made with naturally sourced or synthetic caffeine. Commercial weight loss pills may contain this stimulant too.
But how much caffeine is safe? The FDA says that 400 milligrams per day is a safe amount for healthy adults.
For reference, coffee contains 80 to 100 milligrams in one cup, so you should drink no more than four or five cups per day. Caffeine tablets typically have about 200 milligrams in one pill, which is the equivalent of two coffee cups.
To stay safe, try not to exceed two caffeine pills per day. The caffeine content varies among brands, so make sure you read the labels to determine the exact amount and dosage.
A 12-ounce can of soda provides 30 to 40 milligrams of caffeine, while an 8-ounce cup of tea boasts 30 to 50 milligrams. Energy drinks can have up to 250 milligrams per serving (8 fluid ounces), points out the FDA.
According to the same source, children and teens should not consume caffeine. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to become pregnant or living with certain conditions, you may be more sensitive to its side effects. Consult a doctor to determine whether or not caffeine is safe for you.
Caffeine Tablets vs. Coffee
If you are debating between caffeine pills versus coffee, it's important to know the different health implications. In addition to giving you a jolt of energy in the morning, coffee also offers antioxidants and key nutrients, such as riboflavin and vitamins B5 and B3, which you won't find in caffeine tablets.
Furthermore, the bioactive ingredients in coffee promote brain health. A June 2016 study in Nutrition found that those who drank coffee had a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, which is the leading cause of cognitive decline. Coffee has other benefits as well, including improved memory and mental performance, states Harvard Medical School. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.
Caffeine tablets are beneficial for those who want to stay alert and energized but can't drink coffee or tea. According to Harvard Medical School, many people avoid coffee for health reasons.
This beverage can be irritating and cause heartburn or acid reflux in those with digestive issues. Caffeine, its active ingredient, is a diuretic and causes you to urinate more, so both coffee and the pills will this effect. Lastly, some people just don't like the taste of coffee and would prefer their caffeine in pill form.
Read more: How Do Caffeine Pills Affect Your Body?
Caffeine Pills: Side Effects
The side effects of caffeine pills can vary from mild to severe, depending on the dose and your sensitivity to caffeine. When you ingest too much of it through coffee, pills or energy drinks, you may notice the following effects, points out the FDA:
- Increased heart rate
- Stomach upset
Furthermore, this substance can have toxic effects, such as seizures, when consumed in high doses (around 1,200 milligrams). Although it would be difficult to overdose on caffeine when drinking coffee, it's easy to do so with caffeine pills. If you're taking diet pills in addition to drinking energy drinks and coffee, the amount of caffeine consumed can reach dangerous levels.
Read more: Signs and Symptoms of Caffeine Intolerance
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns about the dangers of mixing alcohol with caffeine. The latter can mask the depressant effects of alcohol and result in drinking too much. Although mixing caffeine-based energy drinks with alcohol gets the most negative attention (Red Bull and Vodka cocktail, for example), you should also be wary of taking caffeine pills and drinking alcohol.
In general, caffeine in both coffee and caffeine pills can be a safe way to increase alertness as long as you consume it within the recommended limits.
- USDA: "Nutrition Facts For Coffee"
- Harvard Medical School: "The Latest Scoop On The Health Benefits Of Coffee"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much?"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Caffeine and Alcohol"
- Nutrition: "Habitual Coffee Consumption and Risk of Cognitive Decline/dementia: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Cohort Studies"
- Harvard Medical School: "Caffeine and a Healthy Diet May Boost Memory, Thinking Skills; Alcohol’s Effect Uncertain"