Some days, it can feel like life runs on caffeine. And if your day doesn’t even start until you’ve finished your first cup of coffee, you’re not alone. While the Mayo Clinic says ingesting up to 400 mg of caffeine (or four cups of coffee) per day is totally safe—and might actually offer some benefits, like a reduced risk of diabetes and heart disease—overdoing it can really start to cause problems.
Drinking the right amount of caffeine will make you feel energized and ready to take on the day. The issue comes when you go beyond that 400 mg, which pharmacist Lindsey Elmore says can result in some very noticeable symptoms. “You may have a fast or irregular heart beat, anxiety, dizziness, diarrhea, insomnia, headaches, or irritability,” she says. “There are also more serious symptoms that need immediate medical attention, including vomiting, confusion, and chest pain.”
And there’s a reason behind the wide range of physical effects. When you have too much caffeine in your system, it stresses out your entire body.
“Caffeine is a stimulant and its effects on the body reflect that,” says Lisa Samuels, RD, founder of The Happie House. “Through a number of pathways, caffeine encourages the pituitary gland to release hormones that increase the production of adrenaline—the fight or flight hormone—which prepares your body to flee from dangerous or stressful situations.”
Once your body is too hyped up, you’re not even getting any of the positive qualities of caffeine you initially signed up for, like increased energy and clearer thinking. Instead, experiencing things like frequent urination, an upset stomach, cramping, and diarrhea—not to mention an unwanted surge of adrenaline—has the complete opposite effect on your body, making it harder to get through your day.
“Because of these symptoms, you may lose the ability to concentrate and stay focused throughout the day,” Samuels says. “Caffeine also affects your sleep patterns, causing you to not get the amount of restorative rest that you need at night. This can increase stress and leave you feeling fatigued, which can decrease your productivity and leave less time in the day to do things that you enjoy.”
If you think you need to back down on your caffeine obsession, don’t completely rid it from your life all at once. The best way to start feeling like yourself again is to wean yourself off of it.
“Cutting caffeine out cold turkey can cause withdrawal symptoms like headaches, fatigue, and nausea, among others. Slowly decrease the amount of coffee, energy drinks, or soda that you consume in a day by replacing some of them with water,” Samuels advises. “If you love coffee, begin drinking decaf or switch to decaffeinated tea. Or, try some other body-benefiting replacements, like kombucha, coconut water, and yerba mate tea.”
In fact, you could even just sip on hot water. “I know it might sound crazy to people that are avid coffee drinkers, but it’s actually really satisfying,” says Kelly Springer, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Kelly’s Choice. “Plus, it will hydrate you and keep you warm at the same time.” But no matter what direction you go in to cut back on caffeine, that doesn’t mean it’s the end to your once-high energy levels throughout the day. You just have to get your fix from other sources.
“If you find you still need that energy boost, try exercising, going for a short walk, stretching at your desk, and prioritizing a good night’s sleep over everything else,” Samuels says.
Once you’re back to drinking a healthy amount of caffeine again—and not solely depending on it to get through your to-do list—you’ll feel like a completely new person. Because there’s nothing wrong with having a serious love of coffee…until you’re downing the entire pot. And if you’re looking for a healthier way to put some pep in your step, steal these 25 Non-Coffee Ways to Boost Your Energy Levels.
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