There are mixed messages about caffeine in coffee and its effects on the body. While some people claim they can drink 5 cups of coffee a day with no negative effects, others limit their intake to one cup.
It is hard to know how much coffee is too much.
While caffeine provides numerous benefits and is safe to consume in moderation, some health gurus are advocating for cutting it out completely. Is excessive consumption of caffeine dangerous?
Can you develop a higher tolerance to coffee? And are there any other downsides of drinking too much apart from caffeine?
Most of us drink coffee because we enjoy its taste, but we also love the caffeine kick that can give us motivation on those difficult mornings.
Caffeine does not only boosts your energy levels but can also improve your mood, boost your metabolism and improve your mental and physical performance.
It is important to recognize that caffeine itself is not bad when consumed in moderation. But it can have adverse effects when consumed in excess.
But how do you know that you are drinking too much coffee?
According to the American Food and Drug Administration, 400mg of caffeine a day appears to be safe for most adults (*). That’s roughly the amount of caffeine in four cups of coffee.
How Many Cups Is Too Many?
The caffeine content present in your coffee cup is determined by the brewing method. Therefore, it can be difficult to say how many cups is too much.
A shot of espresso contains around 70mg of caffeine. But a cup of filter coffee brewed in a Chemex can contain up to 200mg of caffeine per cup (*).
While drinking 4 cups of coffee that contain one espresso shot each might be acceptable, 4 cups of strong filter coffee is probably too much.
When determining the number of cups you should consume in a day, don’t forget to factor in other sources of caffeine such as tea, Coke, or energy drinks.
Effects of Too Much Caffeine
Caffeine is absorbed by the body quickly and you can experience its short-term effects within 5 to 30 minutes.
We love coffee for the positive effects that caffeine provides. These include increased mental alertness, physical energy, and increased heart rate.
The length of these effects vary, with some individuals being affected by caffeine for up to 12 hours, and thus causing disrupted sleep or restlessness at night (*).
One way of knowing that you might be drinking too much coffee is when you experience the negative short-term effects of caffeine. These can include dizziness, upset stomach, irritability, anxiety, fast heartbeat, and insomnia (*).
If you’re worried about more severe effects of caffeine, you are not risking those even if you overstep the 400mg benchmark.
The FDA also estimates that toxic effects like seizures, can be observed with rapid consumption of around 1,200mg of caffeine, or 0.15 tablespoons of pure caffeine (*).
And most of us are not doing that.
Feeling the Jitters
Have you ever experienced jitters? “Jitters” is a colloquial term for the short-term symptoms people experience when consuming too much caffeine.
These include restlessness, sweating, and shaking. Some people can even feel light-headed and experience similar symptoms to having an anxiety attack.
If you’re experiencing jitters, you’ve probably hit your “too much coffee” threshold and you should try to consume less the next time.
While jitters can last up to several hours, most people are affected by them for a much shorter period of time.
If you want to speed up the process, eating something can help by slowing down the absorption of caffeine into your bloodstream and mitigate the effects of anxiety and stress on your body (*).
Staying hydrated and drinking lots of water before you reach for the next cup of coffee can help to prevent jitters.
While it is safe to consume up to 400mg of caffeine a day, some people can experience disrupted sleep or other negative effects after more than two cups.
This is because different people are affected by caffeine differently. While some amounts are okay for you, they might be too much for others.
The way you’re affected by caffeine depends on many factors. While you can build up a tolerance to caffeine, the sensitivity is also affected by age, genetics, heart problems, and other medical conditions (*).
Benefits of Caffeine
Before you start cutting down on your daily caffeine intake, drinking coffee also has many positive effects on your body, including:
- Increased longevity (*)
- Better processing of glucose
- Reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes (*)
- Reducing the risk of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer (*)
- Reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease (*)
- Lower risk of depression and suicide (*)
Cutting Back on Caffeine
If you are experiencing jitters a little bit too frequently and this article has shown you that the amount of coffee you’re consuming might indeed be too much, don’t cut it out completely.
Stopping abruptly can cause withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, tiredness, difficulty concentrating, and nervousness (*). While these symptoms are not considered dangerous, they are still unpleasant.
A much smarter approach is to gradually reduce the amount of caffeine you consume. For example, if you’re currently drinking 4 cups of coffee a day, try reducing this number to 3 for a few weeks before cutting down further.
And if you don’t want to give up coffee’s delicious taste, another option is to swap a few caffeinated cups for decaf.
While decaf coffee still contains some caffeine, the content is much lower, around 2-15mg per cup (*). Nowadays you can find decaf coffee that tastes just as delicious as your regular cup of joe.
Beyond Caffeine: Other Risks to Consider
Although caffeine is a big part of it, the jittery substance is not the only risk that comes with drinking too much coffee.
Some other risks to consider include:
- Enamel damage - because coffee is very acidic, drinking too much can lead to tooth enamel erosion, causing your teeth to become thin and brittle.
- Teeth staining - drinking too much coffee can cause teeth staining. This is caused by substances called tannins which cause color compounds to stick to your teeth and leave a yellow color behind.
- Stomach irritation - because of coffee’s acidity, drinking too much can aggravate certain gut health conditions in some people. These include acid reflux, gastric ulcers, or irritable bowel syndrome (*). People with gut conditions can be more sensitive to these effects.
The Bottom Line
According to health guidelines, drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee or a maximum amount of 400 mg of caffeine is considered safe for most adults.
Because the caffeine content of your cup depends on the brewing method, the recommended allowance can vary.
Caffeine sensitivity depends on the individual and is influenced by age, genetics, and tolerance.
While consuming too much caffeine can cause short-term negative effects, also known as jitters, coffee also has numerous health benefits.
Caffeine is not the only risk of drinking too much coffee. Going overboard with your daily coffee consumption can cause damage or discoloring to your teeth as well as irritation of your gut.