Coffee. Energy drinks. Tea. Soda. Almost everyone is familiar with these beverages and may or may not consciously know that they contain caffeine. With March being Caffeine Awareness Month, there is no better time than to dive deeper into what the substance is, where it is found and if there is an intake limit.
What is caffeine?
As stated on Healthline, caffeine is “a natural stimulant most commonly found in tea, coffee and cacao plants.” The substance is consumed primarily for an increase in energy to combat feelings of tiredness. When you consume caffeine, the bloodstream absorbs and breaks down into various compounds. This then impacts places such as your brain, heart and muscles.
As a result, your body reacts by feeling more energized, alert and focused. As a result, it tends to keep you awake and active for longer. This is because it inhibits normal chemical reactions that make you sleepy or lethargic (adenosine). The caffeine molecule heightens brain signaling molecules, resulting in feeling more alert and active.
Essentially, caffeine is a drug that takes the form of a stimulant. In a sense, it is the most popular drug addiction as explained by The Atlantic.
Where is it found?
Since it is one of the most common drug/substance addictions out there, it is no secret that caffeine is easy to find. The obvious answer to this question is the usual culprits of tea, coffee, soda and energy drinks. However, there are other items that might not be so obvious. These include, but are not limited to:
- Decaffeinated coffee
- Ice cream/frozen yogurt products
- Pain relievers
- Energy/vitamin water
If you are not actively searching for caffeine, it is important to note that it could be hidden in your food. If you are worried or want to be more aware of your intake, it is helpful to look at the ingredients list of a product before purchasing or consuming.
Side effects of caffeine
As hinted above, there are a lot of effects that caffeine has on the body both physically and mentally. While positive and negative benefits will vary from person to person, there are a variety of common impacts it can have on your body.
For example, caffeine increases mental alertness if you are feeling tired or sluggish. This is why consumers tend to gravitate to a cup of coffee or tea in the morning. Often times, it can boost your mood and result in an increase of alertness, focus and energy.
To some, it is also seen as an appetite suppressor. This means it can leave you feeling full for a period of time. This could be viewed as either negative or positive, depending on the person. Nevertheless, it is a common side effect of consuming caffeine.
Insomnia or a lack of sleep is another major side effect that is commonly viewed as negative. As mentioned above, caffeine molecules allow for a continuous flow of stimulation to the brain. Consequently, you are more likely to feel more awake and energized.
Typically, people will stray away from consuming caffeine past a certain time in the day to avoid feeling a surge of energy in the evening. As a result, people with sleep disorders (such as insomnia) are recommended to avoid consumption closer to bed time.
Depending on the person, caffeine can also create feelings of heightened anxiety, fatigue, heart rate and headaches. It is hard to gauge the universal impacts of these issues as these feelings will differ person to person. Some consumers may not experience all of the above effects, while others will.
Are there limits?
Since caffeine intake varies, it is difficult to tell how much really is too much. While avid consumers can usually tell what their limits are, it is not always so obvious or black and white.
According to Mayo Clinic, “400 milligrams of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most healthy adults.” However, depending on a person’s tolerance level this amount may or may not suffice. Similarly, not everyone will feel its effects after 400 milligrams.
Due to this inconsistency, it is best to listen to your body when trying to identify a maximum caffeine intake. If you find yourself feeling extremely jittery, anxious or hyper-energized, make note of how many cups of coffee you consumed. Additionally, reading ingredients and labels can help you regulate your caffeine consumption and find a limit that works for you.
If you are a coffee drinker, another thing to look out for is the type of coffee you are consuming. For instance, the type of brew matters when drinking caffeinated coffee.
Medical News Today reports that cold brew can contain anywhere from 153 – 238 milligrams of caffeine in a 12 ounce cup. In contrast, a shot of espresso tends to have less due to its shorter roasting time.
So, while it is difficult to judge a universal caffeine limit, there are things you can do to regulate your intake.
Caffeine more often than not has a bad rap. However, like most things, it is more than okay to consume it in moderation. Whatever “moderation” means to you will vary depending on what your body needs.