What happens when you consume too much caffeine?

Dietitian Melissa Meier lets us in on a little coffee science, and tells us what happens to your body when you go overboard. 

There’s absolutely nothing better than a good cup of coffee to kickstart your day. It puts an often-needed pep in your step in the early hours of the morning, and can help you to feel alert and energised. But what happens if you’re on to your third, fourth or fifth cuppa come mid-afternoon?

Here’s what you need to know about consuming too much caffeine – because yes, you can have too much of a good thing. Sorry coffee lovers!

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What’s the deal with caffeine? And how much is too much?

Caffeine isn’t only found in your delicious cup of Joe. It’s also in tea, chocolate, energy drinks, cola drinks and sports supplements. As a stimulant drug, caffeine increases the activity of your brain and nervous system – so it’s wise to keep an eye on your intake, rather than brewing cup after cup just because you feel like it.

The blanket recommended maximum intake of caffeine for a healthy adult is 400 milligrams per day – but this varies depending on your build and overall health status. For pregnant women, that quota is halved to 200 milligrams per day. In case you’re wondering, adolescents and children should limit their consumption of caffeine altogether.

To give you some perspective, espresso coffee provides up to 110 milligrams of caffeine per cup while instant coffee can provide slightly more, with up to 120 milligrams of caffeine per cup.

Drip coffee can contain far more, with up to 240 milligrams of caffeine per cup. In contrast, decaf coffee provides only two to six milligrams of caffeine per cup, while black tea can contain around 105 milligrams of caffeine per cup.

Cola soft drinks provide around 50 milligrams of caffeine per serve, while other energy drinks can pack up to 160 milligrams of caffeine per serve. Dark chocolate and milk chocolate offer about 50 and 10 milligrams of caffeine per serve, respectively.

What happens when you go overboard?

The effects of caffeine hit very soon after you consume it and can last for up to twelve hours. Having trouble catching some shut-eye is probably the most well-known symptom of consuming too much caffeine – but there’s a lot more that can happen when you overdo it.

You could get dizzy, experience headaches or feel your hands trembling. Your mood could be affected, too, and you might find yourself becoming super irritable or anxious. You can also find yourself frequenting the toilet more often than normal with diarrhea or increased urination – both of which can cause dehydration.

On a more serious note, consuming too much caffeine can lead to problems with the rhythm of your heartbeat. It can also cause chest pain, confusion, hallucinations and even seizures. Sorry to scare you, but it’s pretty serious stuff. If you suspect yourself you might’ve gone overboard, it’s important to seek medical attention ASAP.

The verdict on caffeine

Consuming too much caffeine isn’t pleasant – but rest assured you can still enjoy your beloved coffee each day without a worry. If you’re a coffee fiend, I’d recommend sticking to one, maybe two, cups of coffee a day and keeping an eye on other food sources of caffeine (which can really add up if you’re not careful). If you want to quit or cut back, do so slowly to avoid uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal.

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.