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Caffeine is a natural stimulant found in a variety of foods and beverages, including coffee, tea, chocolate, and some soft drinks.
It acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system that increases alertness and produces other effects such as increased heart rate and blood pressure. It is safe for most people when consumed in moderation but can cause side effects such as anxiety, jitters, and insomnia when consumed in large amounts.
Caffeine works by blocking adenosine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel tired. When adenosine is blocked, dopamine and norepinephrine are released, which gives you a burst of energy. Caffeine also increases levels of adrenaline, which further enhances alertness and energy.
The effects of caffeine vary from person to person. For some people, even a small amount of caffeine can cause jitters, anxiety, insomnia, rapid heartbeat, and feeling “tired but wired.” Others can drink coffee all day long with no ill effects. Genetics plays a role in how your body responds to caffeine and how quickly you’re able to break it down. If you're sensitive to caffeine, you may want to limit your intake or avoid it altogether since caffeine may stay in your system from 4-10 hours after consuming it.
While caffeine consumption may help reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and liver disease, too much caffeine can deplete important nutrients, like B vitamins, particularly B6, and may interfere with nutrient absorption of essential minerals, including calcium, iron, and magnesium. Caffeine also tends to suppress appetite and may displace the nourishment you’d get from an actual meal, which the body needs to thrive. Over time, solely relying on caffeinated beverages to get you through the morning may eventually catch up with you, exhausting both your energy levels and your nutrient status. If you’re someone who struggles with fatigue and relies on caffeine to keep you going, you may want to take a closer look at your consumption.
Where caffeine is found:
|Coffee/espresso: ~95mg/8oz, but can range from 30-200mg||Energy drinks: Varies, but can be up around 200mg/serving||Soft drinks: 35-50mg/12oz|
|Black tea – camelia sinensis tea leaf: ~25-48 mg/8oz||Green tea – camelia sinensis tea leaf: ~25-29mg/8oz||Certain medications: e.g. headache medication|
|Coffee ice cream: ~40-80mg/8oz||Chocolate: dark ~12mg, milk ~1-15mg||Weight loss/Pre-Workout supplements: Varies|
How much caffeine is recommended?
It's recommended to limit caffeine intake to no more than 400 mg per day for most adults. Pregnant women, children, and those with certain health conditions may need to limit their caffeine intake even further. Be sure to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian if you have any questions or concerns about your caffeine intake.
Tips for cutting back on caffeine.
If you suspect you’re getting too much caffeine, consider cutting back or eliminating it to see if it makes a difference for you. Follow these steps:
1. Assess whether you’re having any of the common symptoms associated with excess caffeine consumption listed above and determine how much caffeine you’re consuming throughout the day. Identify potential hidden sources, such as medications, supplements, etc.
2. Be sure to cut down slowly on the amount of caffeine in your diet. Stopping too abruptly will likely cause you to experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, etc. In general, the more caffeine you are used to consuming, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms are likely to be. Symptoms of withdrawal begin 12 to 24 hours after the last caffeine intake and can last two to nine days.
3. To successfully reduce your caffeine intake, gradually reduce the amount of coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and other caffeinated products you have each day. Begin to substitute cold caffeinated beverages with water or sparkling water. Water helps to flush caffeine from your body and keeps you hydrated.
If you are a coffee drinker, gradually switch from regular coffee to decaf. You can brew regular and decaf together in a 1:1 ratio or ask for half decaf when ordering your coffee (always ask how many shots of espresso are in your latte). Continue to gradually reduce your caffeine consumption over a period of two to three weeks by increasing the ratio of decaf to caffeinated coffee – this should help you successfully change your habit without causing severe withdrawal symptoms.
4. Watch your caffeine intake after noon to ensure it’s not interfering with your ability to fall asleep at night. Caffeine can stay in your system long after the energy boosting effects wear off.
5. Try drinking the following instead:
Adaptogenic coffee (available in decaf, too)
If you want to continue to consume coffee, consider trying an adaptogenic coffee (e.g. Four Sigmatic Balance Coffee). This type of coffee usually still contains caffeine, but it also has adaptogens in it like ashwagandha which may help your body respond to the coffee/caffeine better.
Caffeine-free teas and beverages:
- Decaf black tea
- Decaf green tea
- Decaf tea latte (hot tea brewed with steamed milk)
- Chicory root “coffee” (e.g. Teeccino)
- Caffeine-free herbal teas (read labels – if it doesn’t contain black or green tea derived from camelia sinensis tea leaf in the blend, it should be caffeine-free)
- Rooibos tea
- Tulsi tea (a.k.a. Holy Basil)
- Golden milk (turmeric, ginger, cinnamon)
- Peppermint tea is great for soothing the digestive tract
- Hibiscus tea
- Bone broth with lemon, ginger, and scallion
- Lemon water
If you’re in need of support making nutrition and lifestyle changes to help improve your energy levels, sleep, and/or dietary intake, call Call913-632-3550 to make an appointment with Dr. Schlick, ND or Lisa Markley, MS, RDN. We’d be happy to help!
About the Author
Lisa Markley, MS, RDN, LD
Lisa Markley, MS, RDN, LD, is an integrative dietitian culinary nutrition expert with nearly two decades of experience working towards improving the health of others. She is passionate about educating others how to harness the healing power of food and healthful lifestyle changes.