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How Bad Is a Serious Caffeine Habit?

Key question: How stressed out are you right now?

Ah, friends. They're like family but cooler. Fully customizable. Fall and one of them will be right there to pick you back up. But as great as friends can be, they also do a lot of really stupid stuff. Stuff that blows your mind. Like, sometimes it seems crazy that you even hang out with people who make such crappy decisions. Stuff that, were it to get out, would be mortifying for anyone with even a shred of self-respect. Lucky for your friends, they've got you to ask their deepest, darkest questions for them. And lucky for you, we started this new column to answer those most embarrassing of queries.


The scenario: You rarely see your friend without a cup of coffee in her hand. And when you do, it's because she's holding an energy drink.

The hope: That when it comes to a compound found naturally in a drink brewed from beans—a magical fruit!—it really is the "more the merrier".

What to consider: "Caffeine is a powerful stimulant," says Alicia Romano, a registered dietitian with Tufts Medical Center. Accordingly, the buzzkill USDA, which issues (sometimes conservative) guidelines on the ingestion of pleasurable substances, recommends cutting yourself off at 400 milligrams per day.

The caffeine content of drip coffee varies by bean, roasting style, and brewing method, but it's usually between 95 and 200 milligrams per 8 ounces. That means you could have between three and five cups before it feels like there's a bouncy house inside your head. But you also have to factor in lattes and cappuccinos—those contain 75 milligrams per shot of espresso, at least at Starbucks—as well as chocolate, tea, diet soda, vodka–Red Bulls, and even caffeinated peanut butter and jerky. (Yes, they're a thing, and yes, they're gross.)

The worst that could happen: Washing down NoDoz with Monsters could lead to heart palpitations, tremors, and irregular heartbeat, says Romano. Last year, a Japanese man died of a caffeine overdose, but experts say you'd likely have to drink 140 cups of coffee in one day to meet the same fate.


What will probably happen: In the short run, overdoing it will take you from feeling perky and focused to being a nervous, nauseous, irritable insomniac. Long run? You'll likely be fine, especially if you get most of your caffeine from coffee (as opposed to energy drinks, which often contain sugar and other unhealthy ingredients). Three to five cups of caffeinated coffee a day has even been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

What to do: Feel fine standing by while your friend caffeinates, unless her frayed nerves start showing. In that case, she can start by keeping tabs on her caffeine intake for a few days. (She won't typically find caffeine content listed on packaging, but she can dig it up in the USDA's database.) Going cold turkey will probably give you a headache, so start by making one of your coffees decaf or switching from black tea to herbal. And definitely cut out the herky-jerky.

photo via Shutterstock

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