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Health Information | 01/26/2023

Curbing the Coffee Break: Are You Drinking Too Much Caffeine?

By  Jung Yoon Choi, MD
It’s no secret that Americans drink a lot of coffee. Trendy coffee shops seem to pop up at every corner, and many people around New England can be seen, day or night, with a “large iced” in hand. Although delicious, convenient, and a cultural norm, is our dependence on caffeinated drinks a cause for concern? Moderate coffee consumption, or about 2 to 5 cups a day (up to roughly 400mg of caffeine), might actually be good for the average adult with no underlying health issues and low sensitivity to caffeine. Not only does it provide a boost of energy, but the anti-inflammatory factors and antioxidants found in coffee are also linked to a lower likelihood of some diseases, like heart disease, liver cancers, and depression. Even more surprisingly, healthy coffee consumption might even extend your lifespan. However, problems can arise when a person consumes too much caffeine. Although its highly dependent on genetics, each person’s tolerance, and health conditions, the effects of high coffee intake show that there can be too much of a good thing. You might be consuming too much coffee if you’re frequently experiencing these symptoms:
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Anxiety
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Urinating frequently
Beyond these short-term symptoms, too much caffeine can be linked to long-term health issues. This includes chronic insomnia, high blood pressure (or worsened existing high blood pressure), anxiety, depression, and digestive problems. Because caffeine is a stimulant, you can also develop a dependency. When considering your daily caffeine intake, it’s important to factor in all food and drinks that contain high levels of caffeine. Some of those include tea, chocolate, and energy drinks. Drinking caffeine daily will cause you to develop a tolerance to the substance, as you would with other drugs or alcohol. As your tolerance grows, you’ll need higher amounts of caffeine to reach your desired effect, whether that be an afternoon pick-me-up or just simply the energy to get out of bed in the morning. Whatever your reason for drinking caffeine or trying to cut back, it’s important to know that withdrawal is possible. These withdrawal symptoms typically start a day after you stop drinking caffeine and usually peak within two days. Once you grow dependent on caffeinated drinks, you have to drink a certain amount each day to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, flu-like symptoms (like nausea, vomiting, and body aches), fatigue, depression, and difficulty concentrating. If you’re looking to curb your coffee habit and avoid caffeine withdrawal, keep these tips in mind:
  • Gradually cut back consumption. An abrupt stop in your caffeine consumption can cause you to experience withdrawal. Although these symptoms will go away on their own after a few days, decreasing your consumption gradually will ease your body into getting used to lower caffeine levels and will lessen withdrawal symptoms overall. If your symptoms, like vomiting, don’t get better after a few days, you should contact your provider, as dehydration is possible.
  • Track how much you consume. Begin tracking the amount of coffee you drink daily. Start reading labels on drinks and medication that might contain caffeine. This will help you understand where you are on your journey before you commit to just stopping cold turkey.
  • Switch to decaf. As you’re reducing your caffeine intake, you might miss the social and cultural aspects of coffee breaks or the routine. If this is the case, decaf might be the way to go. You get the same taste and experience with virtually no caffeine. If you are a moderate coffee drinker wanting to cut back, try swapping out one drink a day for a decaf to start.
When consumed responsibly, caffeine can continue to be an enjoyable and safe part of your daily routine. It’s important to remain mindful of how much caffeine you’re really drinking to avoid unnecessary health risks and uncomfortable side effects. If you need extra help managing your caffeine consumption, be sure to reach out to your Atrius Health provider for tips on how you can make better choices that make sense for you.

About The Author

Jung Yoon Choi, MD

Dr. Jung Yoon Choi joined Atrius Health in 2022. She is a board-certified internist at our Somerville practice who speaks Korean in addition to English. She received her medical degree from the Boston University School of Medicine and completed both her internship and residency at Lahey Clinic in Burlington, MA. Earlier in her medical career, Dr. Choi provided medical care as part of the Seed of Hope Foundation in the Republic of Georgia and served as the embassy medical officer at the United States Embassy in East Timor.

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