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Caffeine Isn’t Bad in Moderation

Doctor Q&A

Primary Care Physician, Family Medicine, Primary Care Physician
Shawnee Mission Primary Care - Prairie View Medical Building

You wake up every day and whether out of habit, necessity or just the sheer enjoyment of it, you down your first cup of coffee. You’re just an average Joe, drinking your average cup of joe.

And you’re not alone. The latest statistics show that 85 percent of the U.S. population consumes at least one caffeinated beverage per day.

The topic of caffeine use, and abuse, is a complex one of mixed messages and varied opinions.

Is it good for you? Possibly.

Is it bad for you? Potentially.

Here’s the buzz about caffeine consumption – the good and the bad:

The Bad News First

Why do many of you feel some guilt over your caffeine consumption? Why do you express a desire to “go off caffeine?”

Because caffeine is a drug. And like all drugs, excessive consumption can cause these adverse effects:

  • Palpitations
  • Tremor
  • Agitation
  • GI upset
  • Arrhythmias
  • Seizures 
  • Hallucinations

Heavy caffeine use is also associated with a risk for other addictive behaviors, like use of tobacco, alcohol and illicit substances.

For these reasons caffeine should be used in moderation, and you should monitor and limit daily intake.


And Now for the Good News


As long as you keep your caffeine intake within normal limits, it can actually work in your favor.

The list is long of the many benefits to caffeine use:

  • Increased alertness
  • Increased energy / combats fatigue
  • Increased concentration
  • Improved concept formation
  • Improved reasoning
  • Improved memory
  • Improved athletic performance
  • Improved orientation and attention

It has also been associated with:

  • Weight loss
  • Improved glucose tolerance
  • Lower risk of Type II Diabetes
  • Reduced risk of Parkinson’s Disease
  • Improvement in Parkinson’s symptoms
  • Reduced risk of cancer
  • Improved headache symptoms, especially in combination with other drugs

**Cautionary note: Caffeine can worsen chronic migraine headaches if used for long periods of time.


So How Much Caffeine is OK?


For most adults, consumption of 400 mg of caffeine daily is considered a safe limit and is not associated with adverse health effects.


The safe limit for adolescents has not been established, but it is presumably lower than for adults.

While chocolate and other cocoa-based foods contain small amounts of caffeine, the majority of your caffeine intake comes from beverages, with coffee being the primary contributor to overall caffeine consumption among all age groups.

Coffee

Caffeine content can vary, but generally keep in mind that brewed coffee is on the higher end at about 130 mg per 8-oz cup.

Here’s a guideline for choosing your daily java juice:

Brewed coffee -- 8 oz = 133 mg caffeine

Generic instant coffee -- 8 oz = 93 mg caffeine

Generic decaffeinated coffee -- 8 oz = 5 mg caffeine

Espresso -- 1 shot = 40 mg caffeine

Decaffeinated espresso -- 1 shot = 4 mg caffeine

To more closely monitor your caffeine intake, uptodate.com provides a credible and extensive list of foods/drinks and their caffeine contents.

Note that teas tend to have less caffeine than some other drinks, and energy drinks have the highest levels of caffeine. (Spike Shooter contains 300 mg per 8.4 oz serving!)

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks high in caffeine should be used with caution, especially in combination with medications, and considering any medical condition you have in which caffeine consumption is ill-advised.

Before making energy drinks a part of your routine for athletic performance or late-night study sessions, do your research on precautions and side effects.

**Cautionary note: You should inform you doctor of your energy drink use, just as you would any other drug or medication.


An Alternative Energy Boost

Just as many prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications can help improve your quality of life, caffeine can have a similar effect.

But just as medications can be abused, so can caffeine. For optimal health, follow these tips for natural energy:

Regularly exercise, with a goal of 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week

Set a goal of eating 4 to 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily

Focus on consuming lean meats and whole grains

Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water each day

Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep each night

For more information on how to become a healthier you, talk with your primary care provider. 

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