Is Caffeine Harmful to You?


The morning cup of coffee to get your day started is a hard thing to imagine letting go of—especially if you've been in the habit for years. But the question on many people's minds is if injesting caffeine is good or bad for their health.

Caffeine today is considered the most commonly used mind-altering drug in the world. Some of its benefits include: the ability to make you more alert, improved concentration, enhanced mood, and a boost in your energy.

So what's the harm?

Medical experts say that while moderate caffeine intake (200 to 300 milligrams, or about two to four cups of brewed coffee a day) isn't likely to cause harm, too much can noticeably affect your health.

According to staff at the Mayo Clinic, heavy daily caffeine use—more than 500 to 600 mg a day, or about four to seven cups of coffee—can cause the following negative side effects.

Negative Effects of Too Much Caffeine

Insomnia

Nervousness

Restlessness

Irritability

Nausea or other gastrointestinal problems

Fast or irregular heartbeat

Muscle tremors

Headaches

Anxiety

Additionally, it can cause frequent urination, dehydration, jittery hands, and increased anxiety and panic attacks.

So, Small Amounts are OK?

Maybe or maybe not, say medical experts. This is because some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. In fact, for some people, just one cup of coffee or tea may initiate some the above-mentioned negative effects. How you react to caffeine may be determined in part by factors such as your body mass, age, smoking habits, drug or hormone use, stress level, health conditions, and how much caffeine you're used to drinking.

If you are finding that one or two cups of coffee per day are giving you negative effects, it's best to scale back. (See below on the best way to do this.)

Are There Any Other Risks?

Yes. The following are important factors to consider:

Caffeine during pregnancy. Some studies have shown that caffeine could make conception more difficult and cause underweight babies. However, if you're pregnant, you'll have to watch your caffeine intake. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advises no more than one or two cups of coffee a day for pregnant women. Although some studies suggest drinking three or more cups of coffee per day may increase the risk of miscarriage, there is no proof that caffeine causes miscarriage, they say.

Caffeine can interact with some medications. Certain medications and herbal supplements negatively interact with caffeine including some antiobiotics such as Ciprofloxacine and Norfloxacin. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether caffeine might affect your prescription.

Blood pressure. While doctors often tell cardiac patients, especially those with high blood pressure, to avoid caffeine, there is little proof that it raises the risk of heart attack, sudden death, or abnormal heart rhythms. What doctors do know is that caffeine does cause a small, short-term boost in blood pressure, but it hasn't been proven to have a lingering health effect.

How to Curb Your Intake

If you are experiencing negative effects of too much caffeine or are concerned about your potential health risks, here's how to curb your caffeine intake:

Be aware. Start paying attention to how much caffeine you are consuming on a daily basis. Read food and beverage labels carefully. Coffee, soda, tea, and chocolate are some of the main caffeine sources.

Go slowly. The best thing to do is to ease yourself off of caffeine gradually so your body has time to adjust. In other words, don't go from three cups of coffee or soda per day to zero cups. Instead, drink one less cup per day or drink a smaller cup each day, thereby lessening the withdrawal effects.

Drink herbal tea. As a coffee replacement, choose herbal teas, which don't contain caffeine.

Bottom Line

If taken in moderation, caffeine is not bad. It's the overuse of caffeine that can get you into trouble. For most people, moderate doses of caffeine aren't harmful. But be aware that some circumstances may warrant limiting or even ending your caffeine routine.

(by Tabby Biddle)

Resources:

"Craving Caffeine: The Anatomy of a Coffee Addict." MSNBC.com. Web. Jun 7 2010. http://www.vanderbilt.edu/ics/ICS_CoffeeNews.shtml

Cromie, William. "Coffee Gets Cleared of Blood Pressure Risk." Harvard University Gazette. 10 Nov. 2005. Web. 7 Jun 2010. http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2005/11.10/06-coffee.html

Mayo Clinic Staff. Caffeine: How Much is Too Much? MayoClinic.com. Web. 7 Jun 2010. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/caffeine/nu00600

"Nutrition During Pregnancy." American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Web. 7 Jun 2010. http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp001.cfm

Stern, Victoria. "Is Coffee Good or Bad for Your Health?" Scienceline.com. 9 jun 2008. Web. 7 Jun 2010. http://www.scienceline.org/2008/06/09/ask-stern-coffee/

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