The signs you're having too much caffeine, and what this means for your health.

We probably all joke about it, but most of us are low-key reliant on our morning coffee to wake us up from our zombie state. The amount of caffeine in each cup probably isn’t in the forefront of our mind at 6am, or at any time really. But should we be concerned about the amount we consume?

There are some benefits associated with a moderate intake of caffeine, but like everything, too much is never a good thing.

What does caffeine do to the body?

Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it speeds up the messages travelling between your brain and your body and consequently, increases your heart rate. Caffeine also increases the circulation of cortisol and adrenaline; these two chemicals act to increase activity in the brain and throughout the central nervous system. Caffeine is easily absorbed, so most effects on the body occur within the first 30 minutes.

You’re likely to experience increased energy levels, a spike in alertness and improvements in mood soon after consuming caffeine. But, these are all short-term benefits, so you’re likely to experience a slump in energy and fatigue around the two-hour mark. Caffeine is also a diuretic, this means it encourages extra water secretion by the kidneys, resulting in increased urination and potentially dehydration if you are not drinking enough water.

What is the recommended amount of caffeine?

There are some benefits associated with a moderate intake of caffeine, but like everything, too much is never a good thing. For the average person, it is recommended to keep caffeine intake below 400-500mg a day. This equates to roughly two medium barista style coffees and is considered to be ‘safe’ for most people, meaning that it is not commonly linked to side effects of irregular heart rate, insomnia or dizziness.

Everyone’s tolerance to caffeine can vary from one to the next, so it’s difficult to pinpoint a blanket ‘safe level.’ The safest level for you is an amount which you can enjoy without experiencing any negative impact on sleep, cognitive function or mental health. Whilst there is a recommended maximum intake, there is no required minimum intake, meaning caffeine is not essential for good health. It can take up to six hours for caffeine to be fully metabolised and broken down by the body, and interestingly, birth control tablets can extend the breakdown rate, pushing it closer to nine hours.

Technically speaking, you can overdose on caffeine, however it’s quite difficult to do so. One would have to be drinking several large energy drinks or multiple caffeine tablets (commonly known as NoDoz) within a few hours.

Sources of caffeine.

It’s a no-brainer that caffeine is found in coffee, and for most of us, that’s probably the largest contributor of caffeine in the diet. The most common sources of caffeine are:

Barista café-style coffee ~150mg/cup
Instant coffee ~100mg/cup
Energy drinks ~ 300mg/500mL can
Coca-Cola ~80mg/600mL bottle
Black tea ~ 75mg/cup
Dark chocolate bar ~50mg/50g bar
Green tea ~ 25mg/cup

Most colas count as a caffeine hit, too. Sorry.

Signs you’re having too much.

If you feel a reliance on caffeine and depend on your coffee it to get you through the day, you’re probably having too much. Regular dehydration or extreme withdrawal symptoms (a splitting headache if you miss your morning hit) are all signs you could benefit from lowering your intake. Generally speaking, our tolerance for caffeine can change over time, so that might explain why one morning coffee was once enough, but now you’re downing three by midday.

Alternatives to caffeine.

If you’re worried you might be drinking (or eating) too much caffeine, have a look at the below options to lower your total intake.

Swap your second coffee of the day for a Matcha latte.

This trendy drink contains less than a third of the caffeine found in a barista coffee, along with a concentrated antioxidant hit. It’s also rich in chlorophyll, vitamin C and zinc.

Swap your black tea for a cup of herbal tea.

Most herbal teas have 0mg of caffeine. There are so many on the market, you’ll be spoilt for choice. My favourites are peppermint, apple & cinnamon and ginger.

Swap the energy drink for a glass of carbonated coconut water.

Yes, it mightn’t give you the same kick with a jaeger bomb, but coconut water (carbonated or not) is a great natural solution to replace this canned, sugary drink. It is high in electrolytes, vitamins and minerals.

Swap a bottle of cola for a bottle of kombucha.

Whilst kombucha is made from tea, the level of caffeine is significantly reduced during the fermentation process. If you make the swap, you’ll be saving 70mg caffeine every time!

Swap your 3pm chocolate bar for a carob bar.

Carob bars are now readily available in supermarkets and are a caffeine-free alternative to chocolate. The taste and texture of carob bars is quite comparable, it’s also high in B Vitamins.

What your favourite caffeine hit? Tell us in the comments!