Are you the person that needs a cup of coffee, or three, to wake up in the morning? Do you drink as much as six cups of coffee per day? Although coffee lovers everywhere preach about the health benefits of drinking coffee, there are serious potential problems associated with caffeine overdose.
One of the biggest benefits of coffee consumption is the large amount of antioxidants contained in coffee. Coffee is also thought to protect the liver, improve short-term mental and physical performance, and support cognitive function. However, drinking coffee can lead to caffeine addiction, alter your mood, and increase anxiety.
Do the risks outweigh the benefits? Besides, caffeine is also found in certain teas, energy drinks, soft drinks, chocolate (even cacao), some herbs, and some weight-loss drugs and over-the-counter stimulants. Caffeine can stay in your system for four to six hours. Therefore, at times, it can be easy to overdo it, and the health effects of chronic caffeine intake can depend on the individual.
What Is Caffeine Overdose?
Although caffeine is completely legal, it is really a stimulant drug, or a chemical that impacts the central nervous system. Caffeine can be categorized under the stimulant of methylxanthine class of psychoactive drugs. Caffeine affects the body and brain in several different ways. Some of these are benefits, but others can be dangerous.
Caffeine-related problems seem to depend on individual tolerance, and how the caffeine is consumed. Research disagrees about how caffeine affects blood sugar levels, hormonal balance, brain activity, blood pressure, and overall mood. Caffeine makes everyone feel slightly differently, and therefore it is possible that even small amounts can lead to good or bad effects. Coffee and tea are also more natural and unsweetened caffeine sources, and are better options than soda or energy drinks.
Caffeine overdose happens when you ingest too much caffeine through foods, drinks, or medications. That being said, some people will consume about the recommended amount of caffeine daily without an issue. People that rarely consume caffeine may be sensitive to caffeine, and should avoid too much at one time. People that often consume high amounts of caffeine should also stop when unpleasant symptoms are experienced.
How Much Do You Need to Drink for Caffeine Overdose?
Coffee is the most popular caffeinated-beverage in the world. It is also the second most-consumed drink behind plain water. Some caffeine overdose symptoms are quite common, like nervousness and insomnia; however, the risks will sometimes go beyond those symptoms. For instance, in some people, consumption of three or more cups of coffee can increase PMS symptoms and negatively impact hormonal levels. That is a perfect example of how the risks of coffee might outweigh the benefits of the popular beverage.
What is drinking too much coffee, or excessive caffeine consumption? This depends on the person’s individual tolerance and whom you ask. Some define excessive caffeine intake as drinking over eight to 10 eight-ounce cups at a time. However, others will experience similar effects with much less.
A moderate amount of coffee for adults that is linked with health benefits is about 500 milligrams of caffeine daily, or around five cups of regular coffee. The general recommendation during pregnancy is no more than 200 milligrams daily. Studies show that drinking numerous cups of caffeine daily may increase the risk of anxiety, heart problems, blood sugar issues, abnormal pregnancy, and miscarriage.
In most cases, coffee doesn’t cause caffeine overdose. The problem, however, is the combination of caffeinated soft drinks, supplements, and energy drinks, along with tea and coffee. Caffeine and coffee is also a common unhealthy way for people to lose weight.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies caffeine as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Toxic doses are anything over 10 grams daily in adults. However, one cup of coffee contains 80 to 175 milligrams of caffeine depending on the preparation method and bean. Based on that description, someone would need to drink 50 to 100 cups of coffee to have a true caffeine overdose, but it’s not that simple.
Symptoms of Too Much Caffeine Consumption
Official diagnosis of caffeine overdose will include five of the following symptoms: diuresis, flushed face, insomnia, diarrhea, upset tummy, excitement, nervousness, restlessness, periods of inexhaustibility, psychomotor agitation, cardiac arrhythmia or tachycardia, muscle twitching, or rambling flow of speech and thought. But, even if you don’t experience caffeine overdose, consumption of just small quantities of caffeine can produce adverse effects. Nervousness and dizziness are first signs that you’ve had too much caffeine.
What are the most common caffeine overdose symptoms? Several caffeine overdose symptoms may occur. As a result, some caffeine overdose symptoms may not seem serious. For instance, seemingly less serious symptoms may include diarrhea, dizziness, headaches, fever, sweating, irritability, increased thirst, and insomnia.
Whether you are diagnosed with caffeine overdose or not, more severe symptoms of too much caffeine consumption can include:
- Breathing trouble
- Vomiting, nausea, and other digestive issues
- Changes in alertness
- Frequent urination
- Bladder irritation
- Fainting, tremors, muscle twitching, and convulsions
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Irregular or rapid heartbeat, chest pain, and palpitations
- Fibrocystic breast lumps in women
7 Potential Concerns with Drinking Caffeine
Although much research details the benefits of antioxidant-rich coffee, as mentioned, caffeine impacts everyone differently, and even small doses can have negative effects. Let’s take a deeper look at the potential concerns of drinking caffeine and caffeine overdose.
1. Caffeine addiction
Similar to all drugs, caffeine is considered very addictive, and is often used for self-medication. Avid coffee drinkers often have a tough time going a day or two without a coffee. Caffeine withdrawal is a very serious reaction when people attempt to quit the habit. Withdrawal symptoms can include digestive issues, appetite changes, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, headaches, and trouble concentrating.
Over time, a person will require more and more caffeine to produce energizing effects because your body and brain have built a tolerance to caffeine. This is a reason certain natural health practitioners do not recommend caffeine at all. Reliance of caffeine as a source of ongoing energy can be dangerous and interfere with adrenal fatigue healing, while masking other serious health issues.
Anxiety, restlessness, and depression can certainly worsen from caffeine consumption. As a result, a natural anxiety treatment may be the avoidance of caffeine, sugar, and other stimulants. People that suffer from high nervousness and stress levels are more susceptible to caffeine overdose. Studies have found that people with existing anxiety experience increased symptoms of fear, nervousness, tremors, and heart palpitations after caffeine consumption. Some even admitted that the effects were similar to what they felt during a panic attack.
3. Cause or worsen sleep issues
Caffeine will also disrupt sleep due to its stimulating effects. That is why people that consume lots of caffeine may be prone to insomnia and sleep-related problems. However, even if you sleep well, caffeine may also disturb the body’s natural hormone levels and wake-and-sleep cycles. As a result, serotonin and melatonin levels are depleted, and you’re more likely to need caffeine when you wake up. For people having trouble getting good sleep, it is helpful eliminating caffeine, or cutting back to no later than noon each day. Making changes to your caffeine consumption can even help treat insomnia without the need of drugs.
4. Impacts hormone levels
Caffeine leads the adrenal glands to produce more norepinephrine and epinephrine. Over time, the adrenals will weaken and lead to health problems, like chronic fatigue syndrome or adrenal fatigue. Caffeine may also increase levels of estradiol and testosterone, which has the potential to create complications and hormonal imbalances in some people. For natural hormone balancing, it is necessary to eliminate caffeine, sugar, and refined carbs.
5. Leads to high blood pressure
Some evidence shows that people drinking more caffeine on average have higher blood pressure than those that consume none or very little. A 12-year study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011 found that drinking caffeinated drinks like sodas can increase your high blood pressure risk. That being said, coffee consumption was not found to increase blood pressure.
This raises the issue of how caffeine combines with sugar to affect heart health. However, there are potential consequences of high chlorogenic acid found in coffee, and this could increase homocysteine levels. Homosysteine is an inflammatory marker that is a risk factor for strokes, heart attacks, and heart disease.
6. Often combined with sugar and artificial ingredients
How often do you get coffee with milk and sugar? A double milk-double sugar is a common order at majority of drive-thru windows at local coffee restaurants. Synthetic coffee creamers are full of processed ingredients, chemicals, sugars, and artificial sweeteners. Dairy and milk can cause negative reactions in many people. It is a much better idea to choose natural sweeteners like honey or stevia leaf powder, or non-dairy milks like almond or coconut milk.
7. Nutrient depletion and dehydration
Caffeine is a diuretic, and this increases urination. Although coffee itself is not considered dehydrating, drinking plain water or herbal tea provides greater hydration. Drinking coffee throughout the day likely means you are drinking less water. Caffeine may also deplete certain nutrients, including potassium, magnesium, vitamin C, calcium, zinc, and B vitamins.
How to Reduce Caffeine Consumption
Is caffeine your everyday companion? Besides coffee, do you consume energy drinks, energy shots, soft drinks, teas, and other forms of caffeinated beverages? It may be time eliminate caffeine and manage your caffeine overdose symptoms. For instance, activated charcoal is a common drug overdose remedy given to prevent caffeine from entering the gastrointestinal tract.
If your overdose symptoms are severe, go to the nearest hospital immediately. If your symptoms are mild, you may be able to wait to treat the overdose until after the caffeine is no longer in your body. In general, some natural home approaches for caffeine overdose include mild exercise, drinking more water, and eating a nutrient-dense plant-based diet.
If you feel that an energy boost is required in the morning or throughout the day, taking a natural approach is the safest way to go. Here are a few things you can try.
- Start your day with a green smoothie or vegetable juice
- Get better sleep
- Stay hydrated with water and electrolytes
- Balance blood sugar with low-glycemic foods and healthy fats like chia seeds, coconut oil, and flaxseed
- Combat fatigue and stress with adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha, holy basil, ginseng, rhodiola, and licorice root
- Increase intake of B vitamins, especially vitamin B12—commonly known as the “energy vitamin”
In summary, caffeine impacts people differently, and even the smallest doses can have a good or bad effect in some people. Whether or not you are diagnosed with caffeine overdose, mild symptoms can include dizziness, headaches, and insomnia. Meanwhile, more severe symptoms may include confusion, digestive issues, or trouble breathing.
People experiencing caffeine overdose symptoms should begin to eliminate caffeine from their diet. Remember, caffeine is found in decaf coffee, soft drinks, energy drinks, and even in all forms of real chocolate like cacao. The darker the chocolate, the more caffeine it contains. Instead, some good ways to increase energy include consuming green smoothies and drinks, drinking water, balancing your blood sugar, and consuming herbal teas made from adaptogenic herbs like rhodiola and ashwagandha.
Rivers, A., et al., “Caffeine Overdose,” Healthline, October 27, 2015; http://www.healthline.com/health/caffeine-overdose#Overview1.
“8 Healthy Morning Energy Boosters Instead of Coffee,” Organics; http://organics.org/8-healthy-morning-energy-boosters-instead-of-coffee/, last accessed March 16, 2017.
Mesas, A.E., et al., “The Effect of coffee on blood pressure and cardiovascular disease in hypertensive individuals: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2011; 94(4): 1113-1126, doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.016667.