Let’s be honest, we all LOVE coffee. American adults drink 3.1 cups of coffee per day on average, each cup containing approximately 100mg of caffeine. There’s lots of misinformation about caffeine consumption, but the FDA states adults should consume a maximum of 400mg per day (about 4 cups of coffee). The recommended amount is around 200mg per day, because this is the amount where most people begin to have negative side effects. Let’s get into why caffeine overconsumption is unhealthy for physical/cognitive functioning and recommendations we have for appropriate caffeine consumption.
Caffeine in the Body
Caffeine affects the body’s autonomic nervous system (NS): the sympathetic/parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic NS simulates our “Fight or Flight” response, causing elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, digestive system depression, and hormone dysregulation. The parasympathetic NS is our “Rest and Digest” response that works to decrease heart rate, lower blood pressure, secrete relaxation/sleep hormones, and support digestion. Caffeine causes the sympathetic NS to be stimulated while depressing the parasympathetic response for the duration of its elimination half-life, which ranges between 1 to 9 hours, and averages about 5–6 hours to exit the body.
Effects of Overconsumption
Caffeine overconsumption (above average) is classified as <200mg of caffeine consumed per day. Above, we stated that the sympathetic NS is activated and the parasympathetic NS is depressed when you consume caffeine. During overconsumption/prolonged consumption, the sympathetic NS is constantly stimulated which causes the following problems:
1. Blood pressure and heart rate elevation for the duration of the elimination half-life which can lead to heart disease and cardiovascular problems.
2. Depressed digestion leading to bloating, defecation problems, GERD, and digestive system diseases.
3. Hormone overproduction or under-production causing imbalances/improper functioning of other bodily systems.
Similarly, the depression of the parasympathetic NS causes the same functional problems with the addition of:
1. Difficulty sleeping, also causing lack of optimal cognitive functioning.
2. Stress hormone overproduction.
3. Poor nutrient partitioning and metabolic ability.
What Do We Recommend with Caffeine Consumption?
To avoid caffeine overconsumption, allow yourself to have the average amount of caffeine (<200 milligrams) on days when you need it most. For example, on long days, or days you workout, have one cup of coffee. On days when you are not doing a lot of strenuous activity, you should forgo caffeine consumption to ensure you don’t build a tolerance to it and rely on it every day. If you are someone who already has excess caffeine every day, the best way to reduce and reset your caffeine intake is to cut it out completely for a month. Then, add it back in at the average amount suggested above. If you are someone who feels they cannot cut it out completely, you will need to simply cut back on the amount consumed. With both methods, you won’t feel your best for the first two weeks, because you are reliant on caffeine from prolonged overconsumption. In the long run, your overall health will improve significantly.
-Sam Miller Zero Doubt Club