There is no doubt that people today consume a lot of coffee and even more caffeine each day. People drink coffee as a daily habit or sporadically to boost energy and stay awake. Caffeine is found in energy drinks, energy supplements, weight loss pills, sodas and even chocolate. It is the most widely consumed drug in the world.

People drink so much coffee that it can be difficult to remember to think about how it affects their bodies. Some of the beneficial effects caffeine is believed to have besides just keeping you awake include:

  • Decreased risk of dementia
  • Increased energy and improved balance in the elderly
  • Possible decreased risk of liver cancer

Some of the negative effects caffeine may have besides causing that coffee “crash” include:

  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Negative interactions with medications
  • Caffeine addiction

How Does Caffeine Work
Caffeine blocks a substance called adenosine in the brain that tells people they are tired. Because it binds more quickly to the receptors for adenosine, it prevents the adenosine from binding and blocks the message that the user is tired. This is what gives coffee its characteristic effect as a stimulant.

How Much is Too Much
Unlike many drugs, figuring out your daily dose of caffeine can be difficult.

  • A typical cup of coffee has around 100-200 mg of caffeine, depending on the size and brand, but this can vary widely.
  • Unfortunately, there are no labeling requirements when it comes to caffeine, so there is often no way to know how much a given product contains.

While caffeine is obviously a relatively safe drug, given the number of people who ingest it daily, it is a drug. Ten grams of caffeine can and will cause a heart attack and death. Ideally, adults should drink less than 400 milligrams a day, but lack of labeling requirements make it difficult to tell when the limit has been reached.

Benefits of Coffee
There is some evidence that moderate consumption of caffeine during adulthood helps prevent dementia and other late-life brain disorders. However, consumption of caffeine at other ages may have different effects.

Moderate caffeine use in the elderly has been shown to boost energy and improve balance, while relatively small amounts of caffeine can be detrimental to the sleep patterns of children and teens.

Negative Effects on Teenagers and Adults
In both teenagers and adults, the use of caffeine to stay awake is common. However, caffeine does not actually make you less sleepy, it just temporarily prevents the signals from getting through. This means that a coffee “crash” often occurs when the effects wear off and the user is blindsided by exhaustion. This can lead to increased intake in order to counter the effects of the crash, which can in turn lead to overconsumption.

Caffeine Increases Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
This typically occurs at a safe level when consumption is moderated, but individuals may have different results depending on their personal health.

  • Certain medications may interact with caffeine in a negative manner, and people with high blood pressure may be cautioned against raising it more by adding caffeine to their systems.
  • There is even a certain genetic mutation that may raise a person’s risk of heart disease if they take in too much caffeine.

In general, drinking large quantities of coffee is considered bad for your health. However, what a “large quantity” of coffee is depends on many factors, including how much caffeine is in the particular brew, how old you are, and whether you have any other risk factors. The Mayo Clinic states that 200 milligrams is safe for most adults, but this is only an estimate.

Most coffee drinkers find that the benefits of caffeine intake outweigh the costs. However, because of the socially acceptable nature of caffeine use, people tend to overlook the fact that it is a drug. Thus, coffee intake should be moderated through the same lens of careful consideration that is necessary when using any drug.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author:  Lia Crispell, CRNP