How Much Coffee Should You Be Drinking? Going Deep Into Our Favorite Psychoactive Drug — Caffeine

While living in Milan I developed a strong addiction to coffee. I blame the Italians. Damn you skilled barristers and your exceptional coffee beans! Coupled with my addiction to Pepsi Max and chocolate everything, I was definitely exceeding the recommended daily caffeine intake for women. So, as a health conscience and self-critical Gen-Yer, I quit coffee, reduced my Pepsi Max intake to once a week and (sometimes) substitute chocolate for chips. Hey, I never said I was perfect!

And then came the withdrawals…I experienced splitting headaches for a week and felt like I was experiencing the worst PMS of my life with cravings like a crack-head in rehab. Thankfully with time came sanity and the ability to function as a normal human being. Two years later and I’ve decided to permit one coffee a day – a fun ritual that I look forward to amidst the daily grind.

That said, I’m confused about the health benefits of caffeine due to the media’s regular conflicting stories. It seems that nearly every week there’s a new article warning us about the dangers of caffeine, followed by an article on its health benefits the very next week. Talk about mixed messages! What I do know is that caffeine is a stimulant drug, a fact which I can definitely back up thanks to the resulting crazies I randomly get from consuming caffeine…

As caffeine is a psychoactive drug, I believe that we as consumers should be well educated on it. This can be difficult when, for example, we want to know the recommended safe quantities of daily caffeine consumption, and are given these conflicting answers:

Annoyingly, we are generally provided with a range between 200 – 600 mg, which isn’t very specific or helpful! So, I’m going with the average of these figures, which is approximately 390 mg of caffeine a day for a healthy adult. With this information in mind, here are the facts on caffeine so that like me, you can hopefully gain some clarity amongst the mixed messages.

What affects my body’s response to caffeine?

  • How often you consume caffeine
  • Your weight and height
  • Your metabolism
  • General health
  • Mood
  • Gender
  • Whether taken alone or with food
  • Whether taken with drugs such as antibiotics and Echinacea
  • If you suffer from health conditions such as an anxiety disorder
  • Your age

What alter the caffeine content in my coffee?

  • Brewing time
  • Roasting of beans
  • Grinding of beans
  • Who makes your coffee

How much caffeine is in my favourite drinks and food? 

  • Store bought coffee (latte, cappuccino, espresso) = 75 to 350 mg
  • Caffeine tablets (No-Doz) = 100 mg per tablet
  • Instant coffee = 60 to 100 mg
  • Red Bull = 80 mg
  • Pepsi Max = 69 mg
  • Coke Zero = 45 mg
  • Black tea/Oolong tea = 40 mg
  • Greenmtea/Jasmine tea/White tea = 25 mg
  • Dark chocolate = 20 mg
  • Milk chocolate = < 10 mg
  • Decaf tea = 5 mg
  • Decaf coffee = 3 mg
  • White chocolate = 0 mg
  • Herbal tea (e.g. peppermint, chamomile) = 0 mg

How long do the effects of caffeine last?

Caffeine enters the blood stream through the mouth, throat, and stomach lining from the first sip, and it takes just 45 minutes to absorb through these membranes. You can feel the effects in about ten minutes which peaks at around an hour after consumption. The effects generally wear off in three to five hours however some traces of caffeine can be detected up to twelve hours later. The less caffeine regularly consumed, the longer the effect – so somebody who drinks a few cups of coffee a day will experience less of an effect than a person who only drinks one cup.

What are the positive effects of caffeine consumption?

  • Lowers risk of death by all causes
  • Lowers overall risk of cancer – reduces mouth and throat cancer by 50%
  • Decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Improves memory
  • Can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  • Boosts metabolism, decreases appetite and mobilizes fatty acids
  • Is a mild anti-depressant
  • Is more effective than ibuprofen in reducing post-workout pain
  • Provides the body with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals

What are the negative effects of caffeine consumption?

  • Heavy consumption (>4 coffees a day) can lead to early death
  • Heavy  consumption may increase the risk of bladder cancer
  • Increases blood pressure for those with hypertension
  • Heavy consumption can aggravate anxiety disorders, stress and depression
  • Can cause insomnia and reduce REM deep sleep
  • May cause incontinence
  • Heavy consumption can make you delirious and hallucinate
  • Dehydrates the body

Random facts about caffeine:

  • It’s now been proven that it doesn’t stunt your growth
  • Heavy consumption can reduce some women’s breast size
  • Men are more susceptible to the effects than women
  • It takes twice as long to process for women on the birth control pill
  • It takes half as long to process for smokers
  • Vomiting and eye muscle spasms can be symptoms of withdrawal
  • Increases the number and quality of semen TC mark

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