Java Junkies Beware: You Can Overdose on Caffeine

Written by on November 13, 2015 in Food, Drink & Nutrition, Health with 6 Comments

coffee_PhotoBy Reynard Loki  |

Americans drink a lot of coffee. In fact, the U.S. has the highest coffee consumption in the world, followed by the world’s leading coffee producer, Brazil. Recent data show that American consumers spend an average of $21.32 on coffee per week.

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It makes sense that coffee represents a fairly sizeable chunk of Americans’ weekly spending, as caffeine has helped power the modern economy. “For most of human existence, your pattern of sleeping and wakefulness was basically a matter of the sun and the season,” explains Charles Czeisler, a neuroscientist and sleep expert at Harvard Medical School. “When the nature of work changed from a schedule built around the sun to an indoor job timed by a clock, humans had to adapt. The widespread use of caffeinated food and drink — in combination with the invention of electric light — allowed people to cope with a work schedule set by the clock, not by daylight or the natural sleep cycle.”

While the majority of Americans’ caffeine intake comes from coffee, tea and soft drinks are also a main source. A Penn State study published last year found that 85 percent of the U.S. population consumes at least one caffeinated beverage per day.

Some of the report’s other key findings:

  • The mean daily caffeine intake for all ages was 165mg.
  • Caffeine intake was highest in consumers aged 50-64 years.
  • The 90th percentile intake was 380mg/day for all ages.
  • Caffeine intakes from beverages are slightly higher than they were over a decade ago.
  • Energy drinks, energy shots and chocolate beverages contribute little to caffeine intakes.

If you’re an average American, caffeine is a part of your daily life. But can you overdose on caffeine? Well, you can overdose on drugs, and caffeine is a drug, so the answer must be yes. But knowing exactly how much caffeine is required to cause an overdose is a little more complicated.

A central nervous system stimulant, caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug. Technically, it is part of a class of drugs known as methylated xanthines, which includes theophylline, a bronchodilator, and Trental, a drug used to treat muscle pain resulting from peripheral artery disease.

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According to Mayo Clinic, the safe daily limit of caffeine for healthy adults is 400mg, which amounts to about 4-5 cups of coffee, 10 cans of soda or two “energy shot” drinks. (Ten cans of soda does sound high, but note that this is only considering caffeine — not sugar — intake. A can of soda typically contains 30-70mg of caffeine, while a cup of black coffee contains 260mg.)

In fact, the Penn State report’s authors note several health benefits of caffeine, such as “weight loss, improved glucose tolerance and lower risk of type II diabetes, reduced risk for incidence of Parkinson’s disease and improvement in Parkinson’s symptoms, and reduced risk for cancer.”

But regular caffeine intake can pose a variety of health issues as well. And these issues could become more common as caffeine is increasingly becoming an ingredient in a wide array of foods, drinks and over-the-counter drugs.

In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it would begin investigating the safety of caffeine in food products. The decision was a response to a worrying trend: caffeine being added to a growing number of food products. In fact, the agency made the announcement just as Wrigley’s (a subsidiary of U.S. food giant Mars) was promoting a new pack of gum, each piece containing the same amount of caffeine as half a cup of coffee.

Have we become so addicted to caffeine that we need it delivered via chewing gum? While the American addiction to caffeine is well-established, most people will probably be surprised to know the growing list of food items that now come with added caffeine, from gum, jellybeans and marshmallows to waffles, syrup, sunflower seeds and water.

“Our concern is about caffeine appearing in a range of new products, including ones that may be attractive and readily available to children and adolescents, without careful consideration of their cumulative impact,” said FDA deputy commissioner Michael R. Taylor. “The proliferation of these products in the marketplace is very disturbing to us.”

Related Article: 9 Natural Energy-Boosting Drinks That Are Great Alternatives to Coffee



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6 Reader Comments

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  1.' Nancy Anderson Gibson says:

    Yes! kids are dying from taking powdered caffeine. One teaspoon is like???? 80 or 90 cups of coffee!

  2.' Nancy Bates says:

    Don’t drink coffee and avoid caffeine

  3.' Sami Winchester says:

    Never been a fan of coffee

  4.' Tony Godwin Jr. says:

    I stopped drinking coffee, sometimes I do enjoy a hot organic brewed cup of pure black gold… but, that’s once every 3948393 years now. No better taste than the taste of pure water

  5.' Rachel Marie says:

    Really this is so irrational to think. When you” overdose” on coffee all that happens is you crash,which means you finally get so tired you’ll find it harder to stay awake. I’ve do be this many times but I’m still alive and healthy. Save the hype for people who have heart problems or severe anxiety.

  6.' Julie Perkins says:

    NOT! Lol

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