America is certainly caffeinated. Research indicates that about 90 percent of U.S adults consume caffeine daily.
But are people drinking too much of it?
Caffeine is a complex compound that is in a variety of foods. It’s a natural stimulant found in coffee beans, tea leaves, cacao beans, guarana beans, and yerba mate leaves. It can also be synthetically created and added to energy drinks and soda.
It also doesn’t come without some controversy. Most studies on caffeine consumption center around coffee because it is the most popular form of consumption. There is plenty of research to show the benefits of caffeine, like its ability to boost energy, focus, mood, and even promote longevity, but there is also data that shows it can be harmful. Some of the harm may be trouble sleeping, irregular heartbeat, and anxiety.
So what gives?
How caffeine impacts your body and health may come down to your individual consumption patterns and caffeine metabolism. Data recently presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions came to no clear conclusion.
Researchers asked study participants to drink – or not drink – coffee for no more than two consecutive days each for two weeks. They found that people were more physically active and slept less on days they drank coffee than those without.
One very important factor to consider here is that people were asked to start and stop caffeine consumption, which may produce exaggerated results relative to when caffeine is consumed regularly. Caffeine’s impacts are attenuated with regular consumption.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, as much as 400 milligrams (mg) of coffee is considered safe for healthy adults. That equated to 4-5 cups. An 8-ounce cup of green or black tea has 30-50 mg; energy drinks can contain 20-250 mg per 8 ounces, and a 12-ounce can of caffeinated soda have 30-40 mg.
How a person reacts to and metabolizes caffeine is largely individualized. A “moderate” dose, like up to 2 8-ounce cups of coffee, can have beneficial effects for some while acting more like a high dose for others, potentially bringing on negative effects.
It is best to gauge your own intake and decide what is right for you.
Where you get your caffeine may be more important. Unsweetened coffee and tea, for example, are likely better sources than energy drinks, soda, or specialty coffees. The latter are loaded with sugar and other needless calories that can boost the risk for chronic illness.
Energy drinks can also feature mega-doses of caffeine that are generally consumed quickly, which is not ideal.
If you drink coffee and you feel great, keep it up. If it makes you feel anxious or keeps you up, scale back on intake.