You’ve probably felt the effects of too much caffeine at some point in your life. Your heart races, your hands get a little shaky, and it may even give you a good dose of anxiety. What you may not know, however, is that too much caffeine can be bad for your health — both in the short-term and the long run.
A recent news story illustrates just how dangerous caffeine can be, especially for younger people and those with preexisting health conditions. A 16-year-old boy consumed a large soda, latte and an energy drink over the course of two hours. The large dose of caffeine over such a short period of time led to a cardiac arrhythmia — or abnormal heartbeat — which unfortunately took his life. While this is an extreme case, it should serve as a warning for parents and anyone who consumes caffeine regularly.
Caffeine is a stimulant that affects many different systems in your body, While it’s legal and less dangerous than other stimulants, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, it should still be used with caution.
How caffeine affects your body
The effects of caffeine on the body vary from person to person depending on your age, sex, body mass and overall health. Studies have even shown that moderate caffeine intake may have health benefits, including:
• Reduced risk for some cancers, including liver, mouth and throat
• Positive effects on the brain, increased ability to concentrate and memory
• Protection against type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke
Like most things in life, moderation is the key when consuming caffeine. The health benefits associated with caffeine consumption quickly disappear if you’re regularly consuming too much.
Too much caffeine increases your blood pressure, especially if you already have hypertension or don’t consume caffeine regularly. In one study of adults with high blood pressure, blood pressure remained elevated for two to three hours after consuming caffeine. High blood pressure can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Consuming high levels of caffeine has also been shown to increase the risk for benign breast cysts, a condition called fibrocystic breast. While this is not a life threatening condition, it can cause pain, lumpiness, and tenderness.
Too much caffeine is also linked to headaches, insomnia, upset stomach and indigestion. It can also lower fertility rates in women and increase their risk for miscarriage.
Stay in the safe range
Healthy adults are usually in the safe range if they keep their daily caffeine consumption in the 300 to 400 milligram range. However, if you feel side effects at this dose, you should cut back.
The safe range of 400 miiligrams of caffeine per day is equivalent to about four cups of regular coffee. It’s important to know that some popular coffee drinks at high-end coffee shops and national chains can have more than 300 milligrams of caffeine per drink, so don’t assume you can have four venti lattes per day.
Keep in mind that coffee isn’t the only product that contains caffeine. Tea, energy drinks, chocolate, your favorite mocha ice cream, some protein bars and candy, migraine headache medicine, and even gum and mints may contain caffeine. Be sure to read labels but be aware that the FDA does not require manufacturers to list caffeine content — so err on the side of caution if you’re not sure.
There is conflicting advice on how much caffeine is safe for pregnant women, but most doctors and health organizations recommend that they limit caffeine to 200 milligrams per day or less.
And as for children and teens whose brains and bodies are still developing?
They should not have caffeine on a regular basis. The occasional soda or caffeine in chocolate probably won’t harm them, but as a general rule kids should not be consuming caffeine.
Dr. Alfred Casale, a cardiothoracic surgeon, is Associate Chief Medical Officer for Geisinger Health and Chair of the Geisinger Cardiac Institute. Readers may write to him via [email protected]