Avoid Caffeine Overload

Cory Hancock, Shaw Wellness Institute RD

Finals, and the stressful late nights that accompany them, are almost upon us. In an attempt to squeeze the most out of the day’s 24 hours, Colgate students weigh their coffee options critically: Dunkin? Coop? Frank? In light of caffeine crunch time, it’s important for students to carefully consider how their beverage choice affects their body.

Caffeine is a stimulant that is naturally occurring in or added to foods, beverages and drugs. While some caffeine may be harmful, too much caffeine can have negative effects on one’s health. With portion distortion extending to beverages, and the increasing number of ways we consume caffeine, it is easy go on a caffeine binge without even knowing it.

For most people, up to 400 mg of caffeine per day appears to be safe, about the amount of caffeine in a major coffee chain’s venti, or 20-fluid ounce brewed coffee.  In moderation, coffee may have some health benefits, such as improved concentration and physical stamina. However, caffeine’s mildly addictive quality may lead to caffeine withdrawal headaches and energy crashes when the body is running low. Some people metabolize caffeine more slowly, therefore, caffeine can remain in the system for hours, possibly interfering with sleep. Caffeine also has a diuretic effect, so it can contribute to dehydration. Other negative effects include nervousness/restlessness (jitters), stomach upset, rapid heartbeat and muscle tremors.

In addition to beverages, chocolate contains naturally occurring caffeine, and some foods, candies and snacks now contain added caffeine. Caffeine is often added to aspirin and acetaminophen pain relievers to increase absorption rate and effectiveness. A popular extra strength headache reliever contains 65 mg of caffeine, so reading the label is important. In a given day, if you drink your morning large, 20 oz. coffee with a turbo shot (436 mg caffeine), take a dose of a pain-reliever with caffeine (65 mg), snack on a large coffee frozen yogurt (42 mg) and have a dark chocolate bar for dessert (20 mg), you would have consumed 536 mg of caffeine – well over the recommended 400 mg per day limit.

If you experience energy crashes and sleeplessness, consider all possible sources of caffeine and try limiting your intake. Tea, both hot and cold, can be an excellent alternative to coffee, and as an added bonus, it doesn’t give you coffee breath.