Question of the Week

February 2, 2004


Is caffeine really bad for you?

"The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified caffeine as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) in 1958. A more recent review 'found no evidence to show that the use of caffeine in carbonated beverages would render these products injurious to health.'
"The American Medical Association (AMA) has a similar position on caffeine's safety, stating that 'Moderate tea or coffee drinkers probably need have no concern for their health relative to their caffeine consumption provided other lifestyle habits (diet, alcohol consumption) are moderate, as well.'
"Most experts agree that moderation and common sense are the keys for consuming caffeine-containing foods and beverages."

"[M]oderation and common sense are the keys..."

"Higher doses of caffeine can cause anxiety, dizziness, headaches, and the jitters and can interfere with normal sleep. Very high doses of caffeine - if you were to drink many cups of coffee in a day or take a box of No-Doz™ - would be harmful to the body. Caffeine is addictive and may cause withdrawal symptoms - such as severe headaches, muscle aches, temporary depression, and irritability - for those who abruptly stop consuming it....The amount of caffeine needed to affect each person differs. Caffeine sensitivity refers to the amount of caffeine that will produce an effect in someone. This amount varies from person to person."

How much is safe for you?
How much is too much?

With some medical conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease, a person's body may be so sensitive that doctors advise: "Don't drink coffee or sodas that have caffeine in them," and "Don't eat foods or drink
liquids that have chocolate..."

Even in those without such conditions, "Caffeine exhibits a number of biological effects resulting from its diuretic and stimulant properties. Research has shown that some sensitive individuals experience side effects such as insomnia, headaches, irritability and nervousness. As with any substance, there can be numerous other contributing factors, but Canada's Guidelines to Healthy Eating advises consumers that limiting caffeine is a wise precaution."

If you are experiencing negative side effects, chances are you are ingesting more caffeine than is right for you. Some people might be experiencing side effects and be unaware that caffeine could be the cause. Others might not even be aware that they are experiencing the side effects.

"Dehydration is a common side effect of drinking too much caffeine. Although you may think you're getting plenty of liquids, caffeine works against the body in two ways: it has a dehydrating effect on the body's cells and increases the need to urinate. It's particularly important for active teens who play sports to drink noncaffeinated beverages each day to avoid dehydration. Finally, large amounts of caffeine may cause the body to lose calcium and potassium, causing sore muscles and delayed recovery times after exercise."

Other factors that might affect how much caffeine is okay for you include your age and weight.

"A recent review undertaken by Health Canada has considered the numerous studies dealing with caffeine and its potential health effects. It has re-confirmed that for the average adult, moderate daily caffeine intake at dose levels of 400-450 mg/day is not associated with any adverse effects. Data has shown, however, that women of childbearing age and children may be at greater risk from caffeine. Consequently, as a precautionary measure, Health Canada has developed additional guidelines for these two groups. The following recommended maximum caffeine intake levels are based on the most current research available....
        4 - 6 years 45 mg/day
        7 - 9 years 62.5 mg/day
        10 - 12 years 85 mg/day
*Using the recommended intake of 2.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day and based on average body weights of children..."

So how much caffeine is in what you eat and drink?

  • Coffee brewed using the 'drip method' contains an average of 115 mg per 5 ounce serving--keep in mind that if you fill up your coffee mug in the morning, you could be drinking two or more servings in that one 'cup' of coffee.
  • Soft drinks average 36 mg per 12 ounce can.
  • Milk chocolate averages 6 mg per ounce.
  • Dark chocolate, semi-sweet averages 20 mg per ounce.
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Questions of the Week:
How can you know how much caffeine is in what you eat and drink? How much caffeine (if any) is a safe amount for your body? How can you tell if you are getting too much from what you eat and drink each day?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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