To make sure your coffee-drinking habits help you—not hurt you!—it's important to ensure you don't overdo your caffeine intake to the point where it causes inflammation. We have some helpful tools to keep up your sleeve for those days you couldn't resist ordering one more cold brew from the local coffee shop. Here's everything you need to know about caffeine intake (and about drinking too much coffee), as well as how to counteract the negative effects of caffeine.
How much is too much caffeine?
For many people, caffeine fuels them all day long. That means they're refilling their coffee cup multiple times in order to keep their energy levels up. That said, there's a limit you should stick to in order to keep overly-caffeinated-related symptoms at bay. "Safe coffee consumption is considered to be no more than 400 milligrams per day for healthy adults," says Melissa Nieves, LND, RD, MPH, a registered dietitian based in Florida. "Most of the research that has shown the positive health benefits of coffee is based on a moderate consumption of no more than three to four cups a day," Nieves says.
While 400 milligrams might not sound like a whole lot, it's a lot more than you would think. (That's about the equivalent of four cups of brewed coffee.) Exceeding this suggested limit, however, could result in experiencing some uncomfortable symptoms and side effects that will quickly alert you that you've had too much (read: caffeine-induced jitters).
What are the symptoms of too much caffeine?
If you've gone beyond the recommended limit for caffeine, your body will certainly let you know. "Symptoms of too much caffeine generally affect the nervous system since caffeine is a stimulant," Nieves says. Those symptoms have a wide range, from mild issues to more serious problems that can potentially take a toll on your wellness.
According to Nieves, the most common too-much-caffeine symptoms you may experience are (but not limited to):
- nervousness or jitters
- diarrhea or stomach upset
- irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations
The side effects of too much caffeine
If you have too much caffeine in your body day after day, you may start to experience some uncomfortable side effects, especially if your body isn't used to it or if you've recently begun reintroducing coffee to your daily routine. That said, if you've been dealing with the symptoms of consuming too much caffeine on a regular basis, you may not have even realized they may be due to your coffee intake in the first place. "You may experience anxiety—especially if you're already prone to it—as well as insomnia if you're susceptible to it and have caffeine close to bedtime," Nieves says.
The good news? Cutting back on your intake may help mitigate these symptoms, although this may come with its own set of drawbacks. "You may also experience dependency and withdrawal symptoms, such as a headache when you suddenly stop taking it. And heartburn in people suffering from gastritis and peptic ulcers," Nieves says. When taken in excess, caffeine can also cause heart palpitations. According to Harvard Medical School, too much caffeine is one of the prime triggers of heart flutters, where it feels like your heart is skipping a beat.
How to counteract caffeine
So, how do you flush caffeine out of your system? If you've had too much caffeine and are feeling the effects—be it jitters, a headache, or anxiety—the main thing you have to do is wait it out. "There's not much to do once caffeine is in your body except wait for it to be metabolized," Nieves says. With that being said, she does have some things you can do to ease the symptoms in the meantime.
1. Drink water
One of the best things you can do when you're feeling the effects of too much caffeine is grab your trusty water bottle. "Caffeine can act as a mild diuretic, and dehydration can make symptoms worse," Nieves says. "Stay well hydrated until the caffeine naturally leaves your system."
2. Take a walk
There are numerous benefits to taking a walk. Walking helps with your digestion, boosts your brain health, and—you guessed it—can also counteract the effects of too much caffeine. "Gentle physical activity can help calm the jitters. In fact, working out can help reduce headache symptoms as well," Nieves says. If walking isn't for you, also try other gentle workouts like Pilates and yoga.
3. Practice breathing exercises
One of the easiest things you can possibly do to combat the side effects of too much caffeine is to breathe. "Deep breathing techniques can help relieve the anxiety that an excess of caffeine can cause," Nieves says. After you're done deep breathing, you'll instantly feel more relaxed. Past research has shown it can help alleviate stress, too. A win-win.
If you're not sure how to go about deep breathing, there's a simple technique you can try. I Wayan Linggen, a healing therapist, recommends lying down, then breathing in as much as you can through your stomach, allowing it to expand like a balloon. After your chest rises, hold your breath for a few seconds before slowly exhaling through your chest and then your stomach. "Eventually you will feel warm in your head. This is the easiest way to do deep breathing," Linggen says.
You can also practice other techniques, such as square breathing, which involves inhaling for a count of four, holding the breath in for a count of four, and repeating in this manner until you begin to feel calmer and your heart rate slows down.
While you're lying down with your eyes closed practicing deep breathing, you might as well add some meditation into the mix, too. "Meditation can also be useful to calm all that nervous stimulation," Nieves says. Instead of just taking a handful of deep breaths, allow yourself to meditate for at least 10 minutes. By doing so, Stevie Wright, a breathwork facilitator, says you'll increase the supply of oxygen in your brain and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which "promotes a state of calmness."
TL;DR? The next time you know you've had one cup of coffee too many, practice the simple techniques above to help counteract the caffeine, such as deep breathing, meditation, or simply drinking a few glasses of water. Keep in mind that patience is ultimately the best solution for overcoming the effects of drinking too much coffee at a time.
To prevent the symptoms of too much caffeine in the first place, it's a good idea to do your best to keep that caffeine to the minimum whenever possible. Not to mention, too much coffee can definitely wreak havoc on your gut health.
The benefits of coffee, according to a dietitian:
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