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“I’ll take a tall mocha latte with a shot of…”

Whether it’s an a.m. cup of joe, a pre-workout energy drink, or an after supper espresso, caffeinated beverages and products have become a staple of the American diet. Caffeine, found on every inhabited continent, is the most commonly-used mood altering substance in the world. According to the FDA, at least 90 percent of the adult U.S. population consumes caffeine on a daily basis. It can be found in dietary supplements, chocolate, soda, and even over-the-counter and prescription medications. For a product found extensively in the food and beverage market, it would do us all some good to know what an excess of caffeine can do to our bodies.

Caffeine is a Central Nervous System stimulant, which means it speeds up your entire system. While most people consume caffeine for energy and to stay alert, it is only safe to do so in moderation. There are side effects one can experience from too much caffeine, which include hand tremors, a rapid spike in blood pressure, increased heart rate, headache, heart palpitations, excessive sweating, and stomach discomfort. Regular use of caffeine also causes some physical dependence, and stopping abruptly can lead to symptoms like headache, irritability, and fatigue.

Someone once said, “Everything in moderation”- so how much caffeine is too much?

The Mayo Clinic recommends having no more than 300 mg of caffeine a day. A cup of coffee can have anywhere from 95-200 mg of caffeine. If you do the math, that comes out to about 3 cups of coffee a day, never mind the chocolate bar, or the energy drink you had on your lunch break! Since caffeine is in so many of the foods and beverages we have on a daily basis, a person can easily consume an excessive amount without realizing it. The medical community agrees that caffeine in moderation is harmless, so let’s be conscious of how much we eat or drink a day.

Charles Czeisler, a neuroscientist and sleep expert at Harvard Medical School comments on the nature of caffeine and today’s day and age- “The widespread use of caffeinated food and drink, in combination with the invention of electric light, allowed people to cope with a work schedule set by the clock, not by daylight or the natural sleep cycle.” If we are so committed to the cause of keeping ourselves awake when what we really need is sleep, let us at least do it as informed consumers.