Food and Nutrition

How Your Body Tells You That You’re Consuming *Too Much* Caffeine

Saanya Ali

Photo: Stocksy / Pietro Karras
If you're among the 62 percent of Americans who start their day with a cup (or two) of joe, listen up. Coffee is comforting and flavorful, and the 96 milligrams of caffeine in each cup is an energizing, often steadfast part of one's morning routine. It's one of the most beloved beverages around (that's only getting more popular as a result of the past year, with more time spent at home and easier access to your coffee maker). But how much caffeine is too much caffeine?

According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, "caffeine is a stimulant drug, which means it speeds up the messages traveling between the brain and the body." It works by increasing energy production in the central nervous system, in muscles and, in general, increases metabolic rate. In moderation, it can help boost ones mood and mental and physical performance, explains Erika Schwartz, MD. Caffeine is most commonly found in "coffee, black tea, sodas, energy drinks, and even chocolate."

Up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day (about four or five eight-ounce cups of coffee or two energy drinks) is considered safe for most adults, according to Dr. Schwartz, but each person's sensitivity to the substance varies, and your body will warn you with signs when enough turns out to be too much, so it's important to take note. Below, see some of the telltale signs that you are consuming too much caffeine.

What happens when you consume too much caffeine

1. Increased anxiety

"When you consume too much caffeine, your blood pressure rises," says Dr. Schwartz. This can cause feelings of anxiety, nervousness, jitters, and a faster heart rate. Because caffeine speeds your central nervous system, it may trigger an increased released of adrenaline that can make you jumpy or scared.

2. Trouble sleeping

Because of its impact on the central nervous system, caffeine can keep you from falling asleep, staying asleep, or reaching a deep REM state. Since it takes an average of five to six hours for half of the caffeine you consume to be eliminated from your body and about a day for it to completely clear your system, it's better to consume a moderate amount of caffeine early in the day to ensure a restful night.

3. Stomach aches

Because it is so acidic and thus, has laxative properties, coffee (and the caffeine in it) also impacts your gut. This can cause heartburn, cramping, indigestion, nausea, and diarrhea.

4. Frequent urination

Caffeine can act as a mild diuretic, which means that it can cause dehydration. If you're having a cup of coffee, try eating a snack beforehand or with the beverage to slow the fluid's movement through your body.

5. Headaches

While moderate caffeine consumption can sometimes help relieve a headache, (it is a common ingredient in many over-the-counter headache medicines) too much habitual caffeine consumption can result in lasting headaches throughout the day as your body feels withdrawal symptoms.

According to Dr. Schwartz, if you feel yourself experiencing any of the symptoms above, there are ways to limit your caffeine intake slowly to suppress or avoid feeling withdrawal repercussions. She suggests "swapping a cup of coffee with a caffeine-free tea" (or one with less caffeine at first), opting for decaf later in the day, and logging your daily consumption so you can keep track of where and when any troubles arise.

The benefits of drinking coffee (in moderation), explained by a dietitian:

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