Growing up in Massachusetts, my favorite flavor of ice cream was coffee. It still is, though I go with non-dairy versions these days. Apparently, coffee is one of the most popular flavors of ice cream in New England… who knew!?. These days I live in Seattle, and there is no shortage of amazing local coffee roasters for the adult palate.  However, as someone with a history of chronic fatigue issues, I have to limit the amount of caffeine I consume.

Personally, there’s a very narrow line I have to walk when it comes to caffeine.  While it sounds counter-intuitive, whenever I’m in the throes of a stress-induced “adrenal fatigue” episode and I’m dragging, lethargic, and unable to focus, I have learned that cutting way back, and even eliminating caffeine entirely, helps me to recover and restore my energy levels almost immediately.

Can you relate to the love-hate relationship? If so, let’s talk about how much caffeine is too much caffeine as part of National Caffeine Awareness month.

Where is caffeine found? 

This photo shows caffeine and where can it be found.

Caffeine has been identified in more than 60 plant species and history suggests that it may have been consumed as far back as the Paleolithic period! 

Currently, the most common dietary source of caffeine is coffee, but cocoa beverages, soft drinks, energy drinks, specialized sports foods, and supplements also contribute to regular intake. 

Caffeine is also present in many prescription and nonprescription (i.e., over-the-counter) medications, including some taken for headache, pain relief, cold, appetite control, staying awake, asthma, and fluid retention. 

Many beauty products also tout caffeine as a key ingredient to minimize puffy eyes or reduce the appearance of cellulite.

What effects does caffeine have on the body? 

This photo shows a middle aged woman drinking coffee. What effects does caffeine have on the body? 

After ingestion, caffeine is quickly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract into the bloodstream. Once it’s in the bloodstream, caffeine promptly gets absorbed into body tissues and crosses over multiple barriers in the body, including the blood-brain barrier (a roadblock between your bloodstream and your brain which is there to protect your brain from toxins), the blood-placenta barrier for pregnant ladies, and the blood-testis barrier for men. Caffeine peaks in the blood anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours.

This photo shows a tea. This photo shows caffeine limits. What are the tolerable limits? 

Caffeine is considered a drug because of its stimulant effects on the nervous system. It has been found to positively influence mental performance, increase energy, and improve mood.

Caffeine has been found to have a role in the prevention of physical degeneration from Parkinson’s disease and studies have also shown that chronic caffeine consumption has been linked to a significantly lower risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases (meaning diseases that affect the brain and nervous system), such as Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.

Other benefits of caffeine consumption include improved mental alertness, speed reasoning, and memory, weight loss, improved physical performance during endurance exercise, and protection against certain skin cancers.

Negative side effects associated with caffeine include nervousness, anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, dehydration, stomach upset, diarrhea, nausea, increased heart rate, and both psychological and physical dependence.

What are the tolerable limits? 

This photo shows caffeine limits. What are the tolerable limits? 

In adult men and non-pregnant women, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers 400 milligrams (about 4 cups of brewed coffee) a safe amount of caffeine for healthy adults to consume daily. 

Pregnant women should limit their caffeine intake to 200 mg a day (about 2 cups of brewed coffee), according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that children under age 12 should not consume any food or beverages with caffeine. For adolescents 12 and older, caffeine intake should be limited to no more than 100 mg daily.  It may be worth noting, however, that many cultures around the world do introduce teas that may contain caffeine to children as young as two years old.

For comparison

  • 8oz of coffee contains 100mg of caffeine
  • 8oz of decaf coffee contains 2 mg of caffeine
  • 8oz of hot chocolate contains 5-13 mg of caffeine
  • 8oz of green tea contains 35 mg of caffeine
  • 8oz of white tea contains 15-30 mg of caffeine
  • a can of soda contains anywhere from 40-72 mg of caffeine
  • energy drinks can range from 20-400mg+ of caffeine (yes, per drink!)
  • and caffeine content of drugs varies from 16 mg to 200 mg per tablet

How to decide how much caffeine is right for you? 

People have different tolerances and responses to caffeine, partly due to genetic differences. Take inventory of how you feel when you drink something caffeinated, and decide for yourself what makes sense. 

If you feel jittery, anxious, or addicted to the rush, then perhaps you should pull back on the caffeine and opt for a chemical-free Swiss Water® Process decaf coffee or naturally uncaffeinated herbal tea. If you’re ultimately feeling better with less, then follow your body’s cues. 

This photo is about different types of caffeine and knowing how much caffeine is too much caffeine for women and pregnant women.

Opting for organic,  whole-food sources of caffeine, like coffee, tea, or cacao is going to provide other additional nutrients that will benefit your body. 

Espresso is considered more stomach-friendly than filtered coffee because of its short high-pressure brew time and less acidic oilier beans. Caffeine is water-soluble so the longer the coffee grounds or tea leaves steep in hot water, the more caffeine is extracted. As a result, a shot of espresso has less caffeine than a cup of brewed coffee. 

In general, it’s smart to avoid sodas, energy drinks, and other highly processed items with artificial sources of caffeine— as they are unnatural and can cause inflammation and other negative side effects. Many caffeinated beverages are also loaded up with sugars, sweeteners, syrups, and creams which may very well be a contributing factor to feeling jittery or having stomach upsets, as well as lots of extra empty calories with zero benefits.

Another important consideration when it comes to caffeine consumption is the time of day. If you are concerned about sleep, and everyone needs 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night, mid-afternoon would be a recommended cutoff time, ideally before noon. (For more helpful information on getting the best sleep, check out my blogs 5 Reasons Your Health Needs Enough Sleep and Four Tips for Your Best Night of Sleep Yet.)

So if you are struggling with low energy levels, disrupted sleep, or upset stomach you may want to try cutting back on your caffeine intake for a while and see if that helps to make a difference. You may be surprised at how much better you can feel and function! Otherwise, enjoy your cuppa!

PS. If you are struggling with fatigue, digestive health issues, or trouble losing weight, and not sure which foods are right for you I can help! Click here to Schedule your Free Health Discovery Call with me to discuss your health situation and to learn more.

SOURCES

1. Barone, J. J., & Roberts, H. R. (1996). Caffeine consumption. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 34(1), 119–129. doi:10.1016/0278-6915(95)00093-3 


2-3, 5-6. Cappelletti, S., Daria, P., Sani, G., & Aromatario, M. (2015). Caffeine: Cognitive and Physical Performance Enhancer or Psychoactive Drug? Current Neuropharmacology, 13(1), 71–88. doi:10.2174/1570159×1366614121

4. “Caffeine.” The Nutrition Source, 12 Nov. 2020, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/caffeine/.

7-8. “Caffeine: Benefits, Risks, and Effects.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/285194#risks.

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