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How Much Caffeine Is Too Much?

Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on February 24, 2010 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Blog

I am asking myself this very question, tonight at 10:18 pm. It is late, but there’s no way I’m winding down for bed yet. Why? I just had a hot date with a cup named Joe, and boy did he set my jets on fire!

Ok, so it’s pretty obvious that for a restful night of sleep one shouldn’t have caffeine in the evening. But what about a hint of caffeine? A blush? A whisper? What if I need just a little perk of percolating power to help me finish my work?

Just how much caffeine is too much, dammit?!

What Is Caffeine?

Caffeine is an alkaloid that stimulates our own nervous system. Of course, our coffee-culture knows this all too well, hence the common “Want to grab a Starbucks?” and the ubiquitous coffee-cup-to-go.

As in all of nature, nothing is designed by accident. Caffeine is actually a natural pesticide, created by plants like the cacao and tea trees, and coffee shrubs. When a pesky bug attempts to chow down on its stems or leaves, the bug quickly becomes over-stimulated and takes a hike. A speedy one.

Caffeine is also a psychoactive drug, though most of us would never know it! Taken in such small amounts, like in coffee, tea and chocolate, we’re most likely to experience the jitters more than anything else. I think the only time I’ve thought of coffee as my drug has been when I’ve tried to quit it – and I will never do that again! I just can’t seem to function without my first coffee of the day. Thank goodness I don’t have to worry about that, since caffeine is totally legal. Phew.

What Does Caffeine Do In The Body?

Caffeine essentially stimulates the central nervous system. This can cause an increase in heart rate and blood flow, and the brain receives more oxygen. Yeah, I knew that too. This is why it helps us to feel more awake in the mornings! The effects can last up to an hour or more, which is why most people advise against drinking or eating it past the afternoon. My case in point!

How Much Is Safe To Ingest?

A common question. Most experts will tell you that 250 – 300 mg of caffeine per day is safe. Don’t forget that caffeine can be found in a variety of plants, and not just coffee! Some people take way more than the recommended amount, by virtue of the fact that they’re having coffee, tea, chocolate, sodas, and even medicines! Have a look at the following chart:

There is a large difference between drip-brewed coffee and instant coffee; brewed coffee has nearly 50% more caffeine.

330 mg – 16 oz Starbucks Coffee Grande
150 mg – 16 oz Starbucks Caffe Latte
135 mg – 8 oz (approximately 1 cup) regular brewed coffee
95 mg – 8 oz instant coffee
62-64 mg -1 oz Espresso
2-5 mg – 8 oz regular decaffeinated coffee (brewed or instant)

Those trying to cut back on caffeine should steep black tea for less time or switch to green tea, which tends to have far less caffeine.

75 mg – Starbucks Tazo Chai Tea Latte
40-70 mg – 8 oz regular black tea (the longer it is steeped, the higher the caffeine content)
25-50 mg – 8 oz green tea (the longer it is steeped, the higher the caffeine content)
18 mg – 16 oz Snapple Iced Tea
17 mg – 12 oz Nestea (sweetened or unsweetened)
14 mg – 8 oz Sobe Green Tea
10 mg – 12 oz Lipton Brisk Iced Tea (lemon flavoured)
2 mg – 8 oz decaffeinated black tea

Many people are not aware of the large difference in caffeine between Diet Coke and Coca-Cola Classic, or that drinks such as Sunkist Orange contain caffeine. The comparison below is for standard-sized cans (12 ounces) of soft drinks.

56 mg -Mountain Dew
47 mg – Tab
47 mg – Diet Coke
42 mg – Sunkist Orange
41 mg – Dr Pepper and Diet Dr Pepper
38 mg – Regular Pepsi and Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi
35 mg – Coca-Cola Classic
31 mg – Diet Pepsi
29 mg – A&W; Cream Soda
23 mg – Barq’s Root Beer

Energy Drinks
Energy drinks derive their boosting effect through caffeine; most have a similar amount of caffeine to a Starbucks Caffe Latte.

160 mg – 16 oz Monster Energy
160 mg – 16 oz Rockstar
174 mg – 16 oz SoBe No Fear
152 mg – 16 oz SoBe Adrenaline Rush
144 mg – 16 oz Full Throttle
144 mg – 16 oz Fury
143 mg – 16 oz AMP Tall Boy Energy Drink
100 mg – 12 oz Enviga
80 mg -8.5 oz Red Bull
47 mg – 8 oz Vault

Chocolate and Other Treats
The amount of caffeine is higher in dark chocolate than milk chocolate, which contains less cocoa.

30 mg – ½ cup (125 ml) of HaagenDazs Coffee Ice Cream or Starbucks Coffee Ice Cream
18 mg – 1.45 oz Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate bar
9 mg -1.55 oz Hershey’s chocolate bar
5 mg – 3 teaspoons of powdered cocoa mix

Medicines often contain large amounts of caffeine. While this is to be expected in NoDoz, for example, many people are not aware that products such as Midol also contain caffeine:

200 mg – 1 tablet NoDoz Maximum Strength
200 mg – Vivarin
130 mg – 2 tablets of Exedrin
65 mg -Bayer Select Maximum Strength
60 mg – Midol Menstrual Maximum Strength

To check out an amazing database of more than 500 caffeinated beverages from around the world, click HERE.

For me, I go by feeling: I know that depending on the time of the month and where my body chemistry’s at, I can take from 1 to 3 cups of coffee or tea per day. More than that, and I end up feeling anxious and sleepless. So in my healthful opinion, take as much as you want to feel great. Here, though, are some signs to watch for to know if you’ve had too much!

How To Tell If You’ve Had To Much

Aside from the general coffee-shakes, sleeplessness and feelings of anxiety, over dosing on caffeine can cause the following:

shortness of breath
heart palpitations
gastrointestinal issues

Kids shouldn’t take caffeine like adults can, especially if they have any heart issues. These effects are temporary, so they don’t last long. But boy, they don’t feel good!

Can Caffeine Cause Health Problems?

Like anything, too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing! The symptoms above can indicate all kinds of underlying issues or lead to further problems. Too much caffeine can contribute to anxiety disorders by stimulating the excretion of stress hormones. Indigestion can ensue, as well as insomnia, and decreased immunity.

Keep in mind, though, that foods that contain caffeine often contain highly healthful ingredients, like antioxidants, polyphenols, and trace minerals. As far as I’m concerned, in moderation a little caffeine can go a long way!

I’m off to count sheep. I’ll probably get to over 300, but at least I’ll be exercising my brain. I’m so glad I have a positive outlook on life!

Still perky, Sage

Photo Credit: qwrrty

Read also: ‘Tis the Season for Tasty Treats… and Herbs for Your Liver!

Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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