7 Bad Side Effects of Caffeine

Caffeine is the most widely used drug in America. 85% of Americans consume at least 1 caffeinated beverage per day. With so much of the population using caffeine to stay productive, many just assume that its a completely safe drug. However, studies have shown that healthy adults should only consume up to 400 mg per day. Pregnant and breastfeeding women shouldn’t consume over 200 mg per day, and teenagers shouldn’t consume more than 100 mg per day. In addition, studies have shown that caffeine affects each person differently, and certain genes can make a person extra sensitive to small amounts of caffeine.

Caffeine is everywhere. Coffee, tea, chocolate, sodas, energy drinks and weight-loss supplements all contain significant amounts of caffeine. Many people are surprised just how much caffeine are in their favorite drink. For example, a venti regular roast Starbucks coffee contains 475 mg of caffeine! 1 shot of espresso has 150 mg of caffeine, a grande Chai Latte has 95 mg of caffeine, a 20 oz Pepsi Zero has 115 mg of caffeine, and a 20 oz Diet Coke has 76 mg of caffeine. Here’s a chart of the caffeine content of many popular drinks in the US:

Credit: examine.com

So what happens if you consume too much caffeine? In some cases, you’ll suffer unpleasant side effects; in other cases, dangerous issues could arise. Here are 7 of the most common and potentially dangerous side effects of consuming too much caffeine.

1.   Anxiety

For most people, caffeine increases alertness. It works by blocking the effects of adenosine, a brain chemical that makes you feel tired. At the same time, caffeine also triggers the release of adrenaline, the “fight-or-flight” hormone that increases energy by increasing blood circulation, breathing, metabolism and prepares muscles for exertion.

However, in high-doses, or for people particularly sensitive to caffeine, it can cause anxiety and debilitating nervousness. The anxiety can become so bad that caffeine-induced anxiety is a recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Although low-to-moderate doses of caffeine can increase alertness, larger amounts may lead to anxiety or edginess.

2.   Insomnia

Ask any college student and they’ll tell you that caffeine is essential for those all-night cram sessions. One of caffeine’s most prized traits is its ability to keep you awake. On the other hand, ingesting too much caffeine may make it difficult to get the restorative sleep your body needs. Higher caffeine intake can increase the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, and can also decrease your total sleeping time. In extreme circumstances, too much caffeine can cause insomnia.

The extent to which drugs affects a person depends on their individual genetics, and it’s no different with caffeine and insomnia. In general, caffeine consumed later in the day is more likely to interfere with your sleep because it can take several hours for it to wear off. Research has shown that in most people, caffeine remains in your system for an average of five hours. However, the time period may range from one and a half hours to nine hours, depending on the individual.

Caffeine can help you stay awake during the day, but it may negatively impact your sleep quality and quantity. Cut off your caffeine consumption by the early afternoon to avoid sleeping problems.

3.   Stomach Issues

Many people like to jump start their day with a morning cup of coffee. What they may not know is that coffee will also get their bowels moving. When coffee is ingested, it releases gastrin, a hormone that the stomach naturally produces which speeds up activity in the colon. This results in coffee having a laxative effect. Caffeine also stimulates bowel movements by increasing peristalsis, the contractions that move food through the digestive tract.

In moderation, caffeine’s effect on the body’s digestive cycle usually doesn’t cause any issues. But in heavy doses, caffeine can cause loose stools and diarrhea. Research has also suggested that caffeine may worsen gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a disorder that affects the muscles between the stomach and esophagus, usually causing heartburn or acid indigestion.

Although small to moderate amounts of coffee can improve gut motility, larger dosages may lead to loose stools or GERD. Reducing your coffee intake or switching to tea may be beneficial.

4.  Fatigue

Anyone who routinely uses caffeine has experienced a caffeine crash. A caffeine rebound that leaves you feeling extremely fatigued after the caffeine has left your body. Coffee, tea and other caffeinated beverages are known to boost energy levels, but you need to be aware of the potential fatigue that could follow when they where off.

The caffeine rebound fatigue occurs most often in individuals who consume high amounts of caffeine. To maximize caffeine’s benefits on energy and avoid rebound fatigue, consume it in moderate rather than high doses.

5.   Addiction

Caffeine provides may great perks and benefits, but there’s no denying that it can become habit forming, and in certain cases, addictive. When caffeine enters the body, it triggers certain brain chemicals in the same way cocaine and amphetamines do. Some people who use caffeine regularly develop psychological and physical dependencies. Those who routinely take high doses of caffeine are especially prone to develop an addiction problem. In several studies, people who consumed high amounts of caffeine were shown to suffer from caffeine cravings, dependencies, an increased number of headaches, fatigue and withdrawal symptoms.

Caffeine is a great tool to help you stay productive or give you a needed boost. However, after extended use, going without caffeine for several hours may lead to psychological or physical withdrawal symptoms.

6.   High Blood Pressure

Caffeine has been shown to raise blood pressure due to its stimulatory effect on the nervous system. Elevated blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke because it may damage arteries over time, restricting the flow of blood to your heart and brain. Caffeine’s effect on blood pressure seems to be temporary and it seems to have the strongest impact on people who aren’t used to consuming it.

High caffeine intake has also been shown to raise blood pressure during exercise in healthy people, as well as in those with mildly elevated blood pressure. If you have concerns about caffeine’s effect on your blood pressure, you should pay close attention to dosage and timing of when you consume the caffeine.

7.   Frequent Urination

Have you ever noticed that you seem to use the restroom a lot more when you’re drinking your favorite caffeinated beverage? It’s not a coincidence. Just as caffeine stimulates your nervous system, it also stimulates your bladder. In some studies, high doses of caffeine were even linked to the development of incontinence in people with healthy bladders. If you drink a lot of caffeinated beverages and feel that your urination is more frequent or urgent than it should be, it may be a good idea to cut back on your intake to see if your symptoms improve.

Is Caffeine Safe?

In general, yes. Light-to-moderate caffeine intake seems to provide impressive health benefits in many people. On the other hand, very high dosages may lead to side effects that interfere with day-to-day living and might even cause serious health issues. Although responses vary from person to person, the effects of high intake demonstrate that more isn’t necessarily better.


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