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5 Caffeine Myths: Debunked

barista serving a cop of coffee

How do you prefer to start your morning? For most of us, we can’t imagine beginning the day without a cup of coffee or tea. Others may prefer even more of a jolt by opting for a shot of espresso or even an energy drink. Sure, these beverages may be effective at helping you wake up in the morning, but can all of that caffeine be doing more harm than good?

Five Myths About Caffeine

Here we debunk five common myths about caffeine.

Your body will become addicted to caffeine

Caffeine is oftentimes not an addiction at all but rather a dependency. Over an extended period of time, your body becomes dependent on caffeine to help it function. Caffeine acts as a stimulant by sending dopamine signals to your brain making you feel happy, motivated and more alert. Over time, our bodies get accustomed to this feeling, and in turn form a dependency on the substance. For regular caffeine drinkers, going without it may make you feel sluggish or even cause withdrawal symptoms. “Some of these withdrawal symptoms include headaches, trouble concentrating, fatigue, irritability, depression, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain, and stiffness,” explains Megan Boyce, APN-C. However, the surge in dopamine that caffeine causes is very small compared to the imbalance that other stimulants such as drugs can cause, which is why caffeine is considered a dependency rather than an addiction. Megan further explained that by “gradually reducing caffeine over time with substitution of decaf or non-caffeinated beverages, you can reduce the withdrawal symptoms related to caffeine.”

Caffeine is only in drinks like coffee, tea, and soda

One of the ways that people get into the most trouble with caffeine is by believing it can only be found in beverages. While these items are most likely to have the highest amounts of caffeine, you should also note that caffeine can be found in many foods, too. “Hidden sources of caffeine may include milk chocolate, ice cream, protein bars, and candy bars,” Megan explained. The best way to avoid consuming too much caffeine is to always be sure to read the labels on food and drinks to help you keep track of exactly how much caffeine you’re consuming.

You shouldn’t have caffeine if you’re pregnant

This one is partially true and partially false. You don’t have to cut out ALL caffeine necessarily. However, since caffeine crosses the placenta to your baby, pregnant women should try to limit their caffeine intake as much as possible. Megan recommends that “pregnant women should not consume more than 150 mg/day or 1 cup of coffee.” Too much caffeine can cause your baby’s heart rate to spike in ways that it is not ready to handle. Caffeine may also contribute to pregnancy complications including miscarriage. If you have questions about caffeine consumption during pregnancy, you should consult your Ob/Gyn.

Caffeine can’t be fatal

Although it’s highly uncommon, caffeine overdose is a real issue that can be fatal. The lethal amount of caffeine is roughly 10 grams which would be the equivalent to 30 cups of coffee. Sure, you’re probably not going to be drinking that much ‘joe’ in one day, but what about other sources of caffeine? With energy drinks and double shot espressos, not to mention caffeine pills, it’s easier than ever before to consume large quantities of caffeine in a short period of time. Additionally, nutrition labels can often be confusing for people to digest, especially teens and young adults. It’s easy to read that an energy drink has 80 mg of caffeine, but fail to realize that the whole can contains 3 or 4 servings!

Caffeine is bad for you

Because of some people’s dependency on caffeine, it’s easy to chalk it up as “bad.” However, caffeine has many benefits, too, including:

  • Improving memory
  • Increasing energy levels and alertness
  • Providing essential nutrients and antioxidants
  • Helping to detox the liver
  • Relieving post-workout muscle pain
  • Warding off diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
  • Protecting against cataracts
  • Reducing kidney stone risk
  • Boosting metabolism and preventing weight gain
  • Lowering risk of type II diabetes
  • Reducing inflammation

With all of these potential health benefits, there’s no reason to swear off caffeine for good. The key here is moderation. A cup or two of coffee each day is harmless; five or more cups may be overkill.

Signs of a Caffeine Overdose

While uncommon, a caffeine overdose can happen, especially if you’re overly sensitive to this stimulant. “Adverse effects of too much caffeine include anxiety, jitteriness, heart arrhythmias, insomnia, and at toxic levels, seizures and heart dysrhythmias,” Megan explained. “Adults should limit their caffeine intake to less than 400 mg/day which is equal to 2.5 cups of coffee of 20oz total.

If you’re worried that you or a loved one may be suffering from an overdose, visit your nearest emergency room or call 9-1-1 for treatment.

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