Making the Most of Your Cup of Joe

UT Health Austin registered dietitian offers guidance on caffeine health

Reviewed by: Carla Cos, RDN, LD, CDCES
Written by: Kaylee Fang

Latte with a flower design made of creamer.

Whether it’s a cup of joe to kickstart your day or a chocolate treat on your lunch break, a healthy dose of caffeine can help fuel your daily routine. It’s no secret that caffeine is a common choice for boosting energy and focus, affecting both the body and mind, but how much caffeine is too much caffeine?

Carla Cos, RDN, LD, CDCES, a registered dietitian and member of UT Health Austin’s Integrated Behavioral Health care team, offers guidance one caffeine health to help you maintain a healthy and balanced caffeine intake.

An Overview of Caffeine

Caffeine is a commonly used central nervous system stimulant that increases alertness and energy.

The main sources of caffeine found in diets include:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Energy drinks
  • Soft drinks
  • Chocolate

Benefits of Caffeine Intake

Caffeine packs a range of surprising health benefits. Your morning brew provides benefits beyond simply boosting your energy levels. “Caffeine can benefit your body and mind in a number of ways,” shares Cos.

Nourish Your Body

Caffeine is naturally found in various plants, such as coffee beans, tea leaves, cacao beans, and kola nuts. “Foods and beverages containing caffeine provide nutrients that help breakdown carbohydrates, fats, and proteins for energy production,” says Cos.

Boost Your Immunity

Caffeine, commonly found in coffee beans or tea leaves, is rich in antioxidants that protect your cells from damage. The phenolic components in caffeinated beverages and foods also offer health benefits. “Phenolic compounds or phenols in foods and beverages can strengthen your immune system, reduce oxidative stress, and minimize inflammation in your body,” explains Cos.

Enhance Mood and Energy

As caffeine acts as a stimulant by increasing chemicals, such as cortisol and adrenaline, it can heighten activity in your brain and body. “Caffeine enhances alertness by blocking the effect of adenosine, a chemical that induces sleep,” adds Cos. “It also slows down the reabsorption of dopamine into your body, which can regulate emotions and promote feelings of well-being.”

Caffeine can also be effective in increasing aerobic endurance. Athletes may experience heightened energy levels and reduced fatigue during prolonged activities. “It can also help in recovery because caffeine helps replenish glycogen faster, which is the storage form of glucose in the muscle and liver that is used up for energy in endurance activities,” notes Cos.

Prevent Chronic Diseases

Other potential benefits of consuming caffeine include lowering the risk of developing certain conditions and diseases.

These potential conditions and diseases may include:

  • Colorectal cancer
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Liver cancer
  • Parkinson’s

Risks of Caffeine Intake

If you exceed the recommended limit of 400 mg of caffeine a day, you may experience adverse effects.

Overconsumption of caffeine can cause:

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Bladder pain
  • Experiencing “the jitters” or feeling shaky
  • Headache
  • Increased heart rate or palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain

Severe risks associated with excessive caffeine typically occur when the consumption of large amounts of caffeine pills or powders taken all at once. “Severe, yet rare risks of excessive caffeine include seizures, delirium, vomiting, and heart arrhythmias,” adds Cos.

High-Risk Groups

“Caffeine is not recommended for children under 12,” warns Cos. “Children and adolescents that are 12 to 18 years of age should limit themselves to 100 mg of caffeine per day.”

The following individuals should avoid or limit caffeine to less than 200 mg per day:

  • Pregnant persons or those who are breastfeeding
  • Individuals experiencing severe anxiety
  • Individuals experiencing cardiac arrhythmias
  • Individuals living with acid reflux or GERD
  • Individuals living with epilepsy

Caffeine Dependency

It’s possible to develop a tolerance to caffeine, where you may need larger and more frequent amounts of caffeine to achieve the same results. This may lead to physical or psychological dependence on caffeine to function effectively. “If you’re unable to perform daily activities without caffeine, then your body is most likely dependent on caffeine,” says Cos. “If you skip caffeine one day and experience tiredness or headaches, you may be experiencing caffeine withdrawal.”

A sudden decrease in caffeine may cause withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Decreased alertness
  • Depressed mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Low energy and activeness

These symptoms may begin within 12 to 24 hours of stopping caffeine and can last up to 9 days without caffeine. “The peak of symptoms usually occurs at 20 to 50 hours after going without caffeine,” explains Cos.

Explore answers to commonly asked questions about caffeine health.

<br>Tips to Balance Caffeine Intake

<br>Keep Track of Caffeine

Start monitoring your caffeine intake from both foods and beverages. “Read and carefully pay attention to product labels,” advises Cos. “Keep a daily record of your caffeine consumption to help ensure a healthy amount of caffeine.”

Limit Caffeine Intake

Gradually limiting caffeine intake will help your body adjust to lower levels of caffeine and alleviate potential adverse effects. “Try drinking one less can of soda or having a smaller cup of tea each day,” recommends Cos. “Avoid consuming any caffeinated beverages and foods late in the day. If symptoms, such as headaches, occur, then the reduction in caffeine was too rapid.”

Opt for Decaf

Decaffeinated (or decaf) and caffeine-free beverages can provide a healthy alternative if you don’t want to completely cut out coffee and tea from your diet. Many decaffeinated or caffeine-free beverages closely resemble and taste similar to other caffeinated products. “Start by replacing one caffeinated beverage with a decaf or caffeine-free version for a week,” suggests Cos. “Then, continue decreasing the caffeine content until reaching the desired level.”

Shorten Brew Time

Brewing tea for a shorter duration can also reduce its caffeine content. “Opt for herbal teas that are caffeine-free,” encourages Cos. “It’s important to know your limits and listen to your body when making choices about caffeine.”

Depending on your specific healthcare needs, a dietitian may be a part of your healthcare journey at UT Health Austin.

To request an appointment with UT Health Austin, call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.