A moderate amount of caffeine – about four cups of coffee a day – isn’t harmful, but here’s how to spot you’re consuming too much of the stuff
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Glugging plenty of extra coffee or tea may be helping you stick to your New Year’s resolutions.
But you could be replacing one bad habit with another, as too many of those comforting cuppas can be addictive.
The caffeine in coffee and tea, as well as cola, energy drinks and chocolate, can cause changes in both the body and brain, you can develop a tolerance to it, and even have withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit.
The bottom line is caffeine is a legal drug, and the British Dietetic Association says: “Caffeine is often called a ‘drug’: it acts as a stimulant and can improve feelings of alertness and counter the effects of fatigue. However, there’s also a suggestion that some of the effects of caffeine are more to ‘normalise’ the lower levels of alertness felt by regular users who have not consumed enough caffeine that day.
“Too much caffeine, particularly in people who aren’t used it, may cause the adverse effects of irritability and headache. Such symptoms also occur with caffeine withdrawal in people used to lots of caffeine.”
But how do you know if you need to give caffeine up, or at least limit your consumption to no more than what the experts say is a moderate amount – four or five cups of instant coffee a day (around 400mg of caffeine)?
Here are 5 signs you may need to quit caffeine:
Heartburn, which can cause a burning pain in the upper chest, occurs when there’s reflux of acid from the stomach into the oesophagus, often caused by a relaxation of the lower oesophageal sphincter, the ring of muscle between the oesophagus and the stomach.
The muscle is supposed to be closed, except when food passes into the oesophagus, but caffeine can relax the muscle and create an opening so stomach acid can come back up. In addition, coffee is very acidic, so caffeine in coffee can make heartburn even worse.
2. Tummy upsets
Caffeine stimulates the gastrointestinal tract, helping what you consume move more quickly through your system. That means that too much caffeine can upset your stomach and cause nausea and/or diarrhoea.
If you already suffer from anxiety, caffeine can make it worse and even spark panic attacks, while it can actually cause anxiety in those that don’t normally feel anxious. This happens because caffeine stimulates the body’s central nervous system and temporarily increases the metabolism, so there’s a spike in energy and nerve cell interactions which can cause anxiety and the jitters.
4. Poor sleep
Many people drink coffee or energy drinks containing caffeine in a bid to stay more awake or alert, as caffeine helps temporarily block a sleep-inducing chemical in the brain called adenosine, making you feel more alert. However, while the stimulating effect of caffeine can kick in 15 minutes after it’s consumed, it takes around six hours for just half of the caffeine to be eliminated from your body – the rest takes a lot longer.
So even consuming caffeine in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep much later. Studies also suggest caffeine can delay your body clock timing, thus reducing your total sleep time, and it’s thought to reduce deep sleep too.
If your heart races, it could be because you’re consuming too much caffeine – caffeine is a stimulant that has an effect on the central nervous system. Palpitations can be caused by many other things too, including alcohol and nicotine, not to mention numerous medical conditions.
But if you’re experiencing a racing heart it could be connected to caffeine stimulating the body’s central nervous system, so cutting out caffeine may help slow it down, although it’s best to get the cause of palpitations checked by a GP as well.