If you start to worry that all the coffee, soda and tea you're drinking every day and your long-term caffeine use could eventually catch up with you, it can be hard sometimes not to feel like a caffeine addict. You need it to get going in the morning. You need it for an afternoon pick-me-up.
While it's true that caffeine does have some nasty side effects if you consume too much of it, most experts agree that moderate use of it is healthy and won't hurt you even if you consume it for decades. You do, however, need to be careful about becoming dependent on it. Now is a good time to brush up on your caffeine facts and consider what you might be facing if you consume too much too often.
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Caffeine Is a Drug
Just because it's so widely used, you shouldn't lose sight of the fact that caffeine is still a drug. It is a stimulant that affects your central nervous system, making you more alert and energized. This is one of the reasons that 87 percent of American Adults use it.
Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance and can be found most commonly in beverages such as coffee, tea, sodas and energy drinks. Here are a few caffeine amounts courtesy of the Food and Drug Administration:
- Coffee (8 ounces): 80 to 100 milligrams
- Tea (8 ounces): 30 to 50 milligrams
- Soda (12 ounces): 30 to 40 milligrams
- Energy drink (8 ounces): 40 to 250 milligrams
The effects of caffeine can be felt about 15 minutes after you consume it, and will be their strongest about an hour afterward. You then have another 10 hours before that caffeine has completely worked its way out of your system.
Healthy adults should have no more than 400 milligrams a day, which is the amount in about 4 or 5 cups of coffee, while people with certain conditions or who are on certain medications or are pregnant should have much less (or even none at all). According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, there is no official recommendation for a healthy amount of caffeine consumption for children and teenagers.
The Downside of Caffeine
Even though caffeine can be part of a healthy lifestyle, too much of it is not good for you. The Food and Drug Administration lists its symptoms of overconsumption as insomnia, jitters, anxiousness, fast heart rate, upset stomach, nausea and headaches. Way too much caffeine in too short a time (1,200 milligrams) can even be toxic.
According to an August 2019 study published in the American Journal of Medicine, consuming three or more caffeinated drinks a day could be a trigger for migraines. The study, which looked at 98 adults who suffer episodic migraines, found that the higher risk was not there when caffeine consumption was limited to only one or two drinks a day.
Caffeine has a few other side effects that may escalate over time if you're not careful about your long-term caffeine use. First of all, caffeine is a diuretic, which could lead to chronic dehydration if you don't consume enough fluids in addition to your coffee.
Caffeine may interfere with calcium absorption, so it could be bad for your bones. if you aren't eating enough calcium in your usual diet And if you're using caffeine too close to bedtime, it can disturb your sleep, making you even more tired (and caffeine dependent) the next day.
Even though coffee raises your blood pressure, this is only in the short term, according to the Mayo Clinic, which notes that although some people who take in a lot of caffeine on a regular basis have higher blood pressure than those who don't, others develop a tolerance to it and don't feel the same effects.
To see whether you're sensitive to caffeine's effects on your blood pressure, check yourself before a cup of coffee and then a half-hour to two hours afterward. An increase of five to 10 points in your blood pressure would suggest that you are one of those whose blood pressure is influenced by caffeine.
Developing a Dependence
The good news is that most of these health concerns are only felt in the short term. The real worrisome long-term effects of caffeine are becoming dependent on it. What most people call a caffeine addiction isn't actually a physical addiction like one you would develop with alcohol or opioids.
Instead, it is more appropriately described as a tolerance, according to Cleveland Clinic. People with long-term caffeine use get accustomed to having caffeine every day, their body acclimates, and they have to keep consuming more and more to achieve the desired effect.
Once your body is used to this amount of caffeine, it can experience withdrawal symptoms if you cut back. These can start within 12 to 24 hours after your last caffeine intake and last about two to nine days.
Most people don't last that long and have to get their caffeine fix, thus beginning a dependency cycle in which they try to quit, fail and go right back to it. If you want to cut back on caffeine, you should do it slowly over a period of time.
Long-Term Effects of Caffeine
These caffeine facts might seem daunting, but bear in mind that the ill effects refer to people who consume more than the recommended 400 milligrams a day. If you do that regularly, you face a few risks factors, as listed by the Alcohol and Drug Foundation. Some of these risks are:
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
- Frequent urination
- Restlessness and difficulty sleeping
- Muscle tremors or an irregular heart rate
However, consider these caffeine facts: Caffeine is not likely to be harmful to your health as long as you practice other good lifestyle habits. Actually, when you consume healthy, moderate amounts of caffeine, you can ward off Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Type 2 diabetes and cellular oxidation.
So put on the tea kettle, load up the coffee pot and stimulate your nervous system with the confidence that you're safe from any long-term effects of caffeine as long as you drink responsibly.
- American Academy of Family Physicians: “Caffeine and Kids”
- Food and Drug Administration: “Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much?”
- MedlinePlus: “Caffeine”
- MedlinePlus: “Caffeine in the Diet”
- American Journal of Medicine: “Too Much Coffee Raises the Odds of Triggering a Migraine Headache”
- Mayo Clinic: “How Does Caffeine Affect Blood Pressure?”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Caffeine: Tips for Breaking the Habit”
- Alcohol and Drug Foundation: “Caffeine”
- American Heart Association: "Is Coffee Good for You or Not?"