How much coffee is too much coffee?

How much coffee is too much coffee?
Heather Nicholds, C.H.N.

Want to know how much caffeine is too much?

Coffee. The dark side. It’s mysterious, it’s alluring, it’s the bad boy of non-alcoholic beverage choices.

Espresso could be personified by a dangerous Italian lover in a spy movie, an Americano could be played by James Dean leaning against a Harley in a leather jacket.

Part of us likes to make choices that we think are bad, and I know lots of people who found their way to coffee for just that reason.

Other people just like the flavor, the aroma, the energy, wakefulness and increased concentration it gives.

Me – I always hated coffee (my first cup was from a packet put through a hotel drip machine), and I didn’t see the point if it didn’t offer any benefits.

Then I tried an experiment once, drinking coffee every day for a week, to try to understand those of my clients who drink coffee a little bit better. And you know what?

Turns out, I do like coffee! I just had to find out what good coffee was. It has a great smell, a great flavor, a great aura of comfort. In the dead of winter, tea just doesn’t warm me up. Hot chocolate used to be the only thing that could, but now I find coffee can warm me up on those coldest days.

So it draws us in with its dark and aromatic allure, but then what happens when we find ourselves unable to function without it?

We start to wonder… Am I addicted to this stuff? Should I give it up?

How much coffee is too much coffee?

Generally 100mg, or 1 cup of coffee, is considered a low level of intake. That’s what’s studied in relation to increased sports performance and other beneficial effects.

An upper level for safe intake is usually about 400mg, or 4 cups of coffee, per day. That would be a moderate level. But of course everyone is different – for some, that would be way too much.

How do I know what’s right for me?

Since every human body is slightly different, the best way to tell how much of anything is right for you is to look at certain symptoms. That’s your body’s voice telling you what’s happening, so it’s important to listen to it.

The negative effects of caffeine on the body might be jittery, shaky hands, dizziness, lightheadedness, diarrhea, heart racing, or anxiety.

A really interesting read in the NY Times talks about research into the genetic differences in how we process and react to caffeine. Essentially, the research is based on a gene that dictates how quickly our livers process (metabolize) caffeine, and suggests that we could either be a fast or a slow metabolizer.

Fast metabolizers get more of the benefits and less risk, slow metabolizers have more risk and less benefits.

Yet another example of why nutrition science produces conflicting results: humans are conflicting beings with different innate and environmental situations. So it’s fascinating to me when we can uncover what some of those differences are, and what effects they create.

Why is coffee addictive?

Caffeine acts directly on our central nervous system, which is what creates that effect of wakefulness, energy and concentration that people enjoy from coffee. So that effect is what makes coffee addictive.

But caffeine does not act on our bodies to the level of drugs, or even alcohol, and is not as addictive as either of those substances. It’s classified as mild physical dependence.

Withdrawal symptoms from caffeine last from 1 day to a few days, and include things like headaches, fatigue, anxiety, irritability, bad moods, and difficulty concentrating.

You might have a craving for coffee for a much longer time – but the withdrawal symptoms are much milder and over in a much shorter period of time than if you compare to the withdrawal symptoms for drugs or alcohol. So experts don’t consider caffeine to be a serious addiction.

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I also think of the length of the line-ups at Starbucks and ask myself… are people really addicted to the coffee, or to the experience (or maybe the social status?) that Starbucks has created?

Is coffee as bad as people say it is?

Now, to poke holes coffee’s bad-boy reputation, there seems to be a lot of information and scientific studies suggesting that coffee isn’t as bad as once was thought – and that it may actually be beneficial in moderate amounts.

Findings have pointed to regular moderate coffee intake possibly reducing the risk of liver disease, Parkinsons, colorectal cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and dementia.

The WHO (World Health Organization) recently put out a report reversing their previous stance that coffee was a possible carcinogen, and have now concluded that drinking coffee regularly could actually protect against a couple of types of cancer.

This puts coffee kind of on the level with red wine in my books: there seem to be some health-protective effects in small amounts (1 cup per day), but it isn’t a necessary part of being healthy like say green leafy vegetables.

Makes me wonder: does being slightly healthy ruin coffee’s allure?

How do I break coffee addiction?

Well, first of all that depends on whether you want to or not. If it’s not interfering with your life, and you enjoy it, maybe you don’t need to quit. You definitely need to want to in order to quit something. Otherwise you’ll be fighting yourself the whole way, and that doesn’t usually work.

If you do decide you want to reduce your dependence, the best way is to ease off by drinking less of it each day, or drinking it less often, rather than cutting it out entirely.

You can try some of the natural energy boosters and coffee alternatives listed here, along with tips to wean off coffee.

One circumstance when I suggest cutting coffee back as much as possible (or entirely out) for at least 4-6 weeks is in case of adrenal fatigue, since coffee puts a big strain on the adrenal glands in producing adrenaline.

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