Cup of Hot Coffee with Coffee Beans

Caffeine is a white crystalline xanthine alkaloid compound that acts as a stimulant, temporarily warding off drowsiness and restoring alertness. Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance in certain beverages such as coffee and tea, and it is used as an additive in many different energy drinks and diet supplements.  A person may eat something caffeinated and not even know it.  Such is its prevalence in food and beverage items.  It may, however, be something to avoid in large quantities.  The Mayo Clinic recommends that a person ingests no more than 500 mg of caffeine per day to avoid certain issues that caffeine can cause or exacerbate.

What are the Sources of Caffeine?

The main effect people deliberately ingest caffeine for is an energy boost.  Caffeine is a stimulant, and in large enough quantities, it can be extremely powerful.  One cup (8 oz.) of regularly brewed coffee contains anywhere from 95 mg to 200 mg of caffeine.  One cup of regular black tea can contain 14 mg to 61 mg of caffeine. Green Tea, which is often touted as a great supplement for weight loss and antioxidants, can contain anywhere from 24 mg to 41 mg of caffeine.  When it comes to soft drinks, it is often assumed that that colas contain the most caffeine (32 mg to 47 mg), but it is actually a soft drink called Mountain Dew that contains the most (46 mg to 56 mg of caffeine).  Energy drinks like Monster or Red Bull can contain 47 mg to 207 mg of caffeine per serving.

Caffeine is even present in certain medications and sweets.  Excedrin, for instance, contains 130 mg of caffeine in 2 tablets and 1 cup of semisweet chocolate baking chips can contain as much as 104 mg of caffeine.  Caffeine is everywhere.  It’s hard to avoid for many people and the effects aren’t always good.  Caffeine can provide an energy boost when needed, but it can get to the point where a person needs twice as much of it to provide the same energy boost that it gave when caffeine was first introduced to the body.

What are the Negative Effects of Caffeine on the Human Body?

Some of the negative side effects of ingesting too much caffeine are stomach irritation and acid reflux.  Caffeine causes the stomach, in quantities above 100 mg (average cup of coffee), to produce more gastric acid secretions than it normally does.  The more caffeine ingested, the more likely that these excess secretions can lift up into the esophagus (acid reflux) which can lead to ulcers in the esophagus and even lung infections, asthma, and inflammation of the larynx and throat.

In addition to these upper GI problems, too much caffeine can wreak havoc on the digestive tract.  Caffeine can cause diarrhea by relaxing the internal sphincter muscles.  This allows for food and beverage wastes to travel much more quickly through the digestive tract than they normally would.  While diarrhea can be painful on its own, this process can cause a much larger problem - the inability to effectively absorb minerals and other essential substances.  This means that a person can lose electrolytes, which leads to dehydration and that potassium and sodium aren’t utilized properly.

How to Avoid the Negative Effects of Caffeine?

Most of these issues can be avoided by taking in 500 mg or less of caffeine, as suggested by the Mayo Clinic.  However, if a person is already suffering from certain disorders such as Crohn’s Disease, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or other colitis problems, this much caffeine or more can cause serious deteriorations in the conditions.  Too much caffeine, for instance, when a person is dealing with IBS can lead to symptoms of more than the usual bouts of diarrhea, additional cramping, and more pain.  Crohn’s sufferers can even experience symptoms of bloody stools from colon irritation and intestinal irritation after taking in too much caffeine.

So what is the verdict on caffeine and how it affects the body?  Good things in small doses.  Ingest no more than the 500 mg of caffeine during the day and compensate for the dehydration effects by replenishing water and electrolytes.  This can be done easily by drinking water infused with lemon juice or taking in a sports drink that is caffeine free.

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 7, 2012