Starbucks lovers, we know that you rely on your daily jolt of caffeine to get through the day, and we hear you. We would never suggest you give up your morning latte or your beloved afternoon pick-me-up, but it actually is possible to drink too much caffeine (although the lethal level is remarkably high, even for the biggest java addicts among us).
Still, even drinking a few cups of coffee a day can cause some unpleasant effects in your body. We won’t badger you about the benefits of living a caffeine-free life, but we did speak with a doctor who gave us the scoop on what happens when you consume too much caffeine on the regular.
Spoiler alert: Those caffeine jitters are real, and they’re really not great for you. We spoke with Robert Glatter M.D., Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in NYC, and he gave us the low down on how too much caffeine affects your body.
Dr. Glatter says that “most people can safely take in about 400 mg of caffeine daily,” which equals about 4 cups of coffee. Although we must point out that if you’ve got a health condition like stomach ulcers or a heart condition, you should clear any caffeine intake with your doctor first. Sounds pretty reasonable, right?
The most obvious effect of excessive caffeine are those lovely jitters we mentioned earlier, and most serious coffee lovers know their own personal limit, but sometimes it can totally sneak up on you, and you’re left feeling an anxious mess. We’ve all been there. But there’s certainly more to it than a racing heart.
He adds, “The majority of people experience a threshold at which they begin to feel jittery or anxious, so it’s wise to cut back on intake when that develops.”
And though tea and coffee seem like a harmless (and even healthy!) way to put a spring in your step, Glatter is quick to remind us about its stimulating effects. “Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant and can increase your blood pressure as a result of vasoconstriction of blood vessels,” he says. Basically, vasoconstriction is when your blood vessels begin to narrow, slowing blood flow within the body. In turn, this causes the blood pressure to rise, which could be dangerous in individuals with existing heart conditions. Yikes.
If that’s not scary enough, Glatter explains another way caffeine can affect your ticker, saying, “Excess intake may also lead to palpitations and extra heart beats known as premature ventricular contractions or PVCs.” When you feel that flutter or flip-flop feeling in your heart (and it’s not because the barista is flirting with you again), that could be due to all that excess java.
And of course, we can’t ignore how too much caffeine impacts your sleep. Drinking too much coffee, tea, or energy drinks can seriously impact the amount and quality of your nightly Zzz’s. “Not being able to sleep is another obvious symptom of consuming excess caffeine,” Glatter says, which is something even the biggest Red Bull enthusiasts among us can’t deny.
Even worse is the fact that not getting enough sleep can cause you to rely even more on caffeine to get you through the day, creating an unending cycle that can lead to insomnia. In other words: Not good, friends.
Aside from anxiety, sleep issues, and a racing heart, excessive caffeine has other rather unpleasant side effects. The Mayo Clinic recently reported that heavy caffeine users also experience things like migraine headaches, frequent urination, irritability, and muscle tremors.
Also, it’s important to note that though it’s commonly known that caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, and energy drinks, there’s also caffeine lurking in lots of other unsuspecting places. For example, it can be found in medications and supplements, including over-the-counter painkillers like Advil. And there have been many public warnings about the dangers of pure powdered caffeine, weight loss pills, and 5-Hour Energy shots, which are often times unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Glatter adds:
And of course, we have to mention that those vodka Red Bulls are doing you absolutely no favors. Glatter says, “Mixing caffeine with alcohol is a dangerous practice because it may lead to higher levels of alcohol consumption as the person often believes and feels they are more alert. The risk of alcohol poisoning increases as people consume more alcohol because they feel the caffeine will keep them awake and alert.”
And if you’re a woman, we’ve got some more bad news for you. Dr. Patricia Broderick, former editor-in-chief of the Journal of Caffeine Research, told Vice in 2014 that “women are much more susceptible to the effects of caffeine than are men.” The FDA has not set any safe level of caffeine consumption for children, which means that young people should really avoid it at all costs.
Listen, we’re not trying to dissuade you from enjoying your beloved cup of coffee in the morning. In low to moderate amounts (i.e., a few cups of coffee per day), it’s a relatively fine habit for most healthy individuals. But consuming too much caffeine (and this includes supplements, energy drinks, and powdered pills) can certainly make you feel less than stellar in some pretty serious ways, and we’re just looking out for you.
Some people experience ill effects with even just a little caffeine, so if you experience these symptoms (or any others), we certainly recommend checking in with your doctor and slowly reducing your daily caffeine levels. Even Jessie Spano would agree that feeling shitty for a morning buzz simply isn’t worth it.