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SmartHealthToday: How much caffeine is too much? Some ideas to help you evaluate your habit

By Shelly Reese

Baby, it’s cold outside and that extra cup of hot tea or coffee sounds soooooo appealing. Can you indulge or should you take a pass?

Americans love their caffeine in all its myriad forms – 80 percent of U.S. adults consume caffeine every day, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The typical adult consumes about 200 mg in a day, according to the FDA.

That’s equivalent to about two five-ounce cups of brewed coffee or four cans of cola.

While most healthy adults can safely consume up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine a day, according to the Mayo Clinic, doses higher than 500 to 600 mg daily are considered heavy, and may cause problems such as insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, stomach upset, fast heartbeat and muscle tremors.

That said, the way individuals metabolize caffeine differs greatly depending on gender, body mass, ethnicity, medication, tobacco and alcohol use, and health conditions, such as anxiety disorders.

“Believe it or not, there are some people who are ‘non-responders’ to the stimulant effects of caffeine and the stimulant properties may be diminished in individuals accustomed to daily use,” says Dr. Marianne Jansen, a family physician with St. Elizabeth Physicians’ Aurora Primary Care office. Others may suffer negative side effects after a single cup of coffee.
Here are some dos and don’ts to consider in evaluating your caffeine habit:
Get enough sleep

Using caffeine to mask sleep deprivation can lead to a vicious cycle. You may end up consuming more caffeine to combat daytime sleepiness and then be unable to sleep at night.
Talk to your doctor or pharmacist and read medication labels

Some medications can interfere with the breakdown of caffeine, increasing the time it remains in your body, while others have caffeine-like effects that can cause adverse effects when taken on top of caffeine. Be aware that some over-the-counter pain relievers contain caffeine.
Curb your caffeine habit

Are those two “cups” of coffee you drink every morning bucket sized? Try cutting back gradually – switching to a smaller cup or skipping a soda – will help your body acclimate and prevent withdrawal symptoms such as headache, fatigue and nervousness. You can also try switching to decaf. If you’re a tea drinker try shortening the brew time on your tea or switching to a caffeine-free herbal alternative.
Caffeine is not for everyone

Although caffeine use may be safe for most adults, children and pregnant women should avoid it and the Mayo Clinic recommends limiting consumption by adolescents to no more than 100 mg a day.

But caffeine isn’t the only issue people need to consider, cautions Jansen.

“Black coffee and plain tea contain about two calories each, but most people add cream, sugar, syrups and half and half driving up the calorie and fat content,” she says, and a lot of people turn to sugar-laden soda for their caffeine fix.

“All that sugar and fat will make you dehydrated.”

In other words, she says, “moderation is important.”

SmartHealthToday is a service of St. Elizabeth Healthcare.

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