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IU Health “Ask the Expert”

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Ask the IU Expert

In the U.S., 85 percent of adults consume caffeine every day – and some of us are consuming far too much of the stimulant. Dr. Lena Franklin, family medicine physician at IU Health, discusses how excessive caffeine can affect our sleep, our hearts and create mysterious aches and pains.

How much caffeine is too much?

I advise my patients to have no more than 1-2 servings of coffee or soda a day. Many people don’t realize that diet soda and tea both contain caffeine. I know many people who go to work and pour from the coffee pot all day – that can become excessive. A 5-ounce cup of coffee contains about 120 mg of caffeine. You don’t want to exceed 300 mg.

Excess caffeine symptoms

A lot of patients will come to see me with various aches and pains, insomnia, heightened blood pressure and heart palpitations. In several cases, I’ve cut down on the amount of caffeine in their diets, or cut it out 4-5 hours before bedtime, and these problems have disappeared. I’ve had patients who have developed heart palpitations, which is when your heart makes extra beats or skips beats. People describe feeling a fluttering or pounding sensation in their chests when they experience palpitations. If they have an underlying heart problem, the added stimulation can be dangerous.

I’ve also had patients who experienced tingling, burning and numbness in different areas of their bodies. After lab work and a conversation, I discovered the patients were drinking high amounts of caffeine – up to 12 servings a day. We cut down on those drinks and the pain and numbness disappeared.

Who is most at risk for negative effects?

Caffeine can affect people of varying ages differently. As we get older, our kidney function naturally declines so our ability to handle caffeine may decrease as well, especially since older people are more susceptible to dehydration. This is why you should hydrate with water—not soda—when you work outside in the summer.

Children can become more hyperactive when they drink caffeinated beverages. And as for my pregnant patients, I advise them to avoid caffeine entirely because it is both a stimulant and a diuretic – it not only dehydrates, but caffeine also stimulates the heart rate and blood pressure for the mother and baby.

Will I feel the effects of withdrawal if I begin to cut back on caffeine?

Most people will experience a withdrawal headache, even with a fairly low dose of caffeine. Some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others and may not experience the same effects when they cut back or eliminate caffeine. On the other hand, I have patients who eliminated caffeine use and experienced nausea, headache or muscle tremors. If you’re drinking 12 large cans of energy drink a day and suddenly stop, you will feel ill and experience a bad headache.

This is why I recommend to my patients that they cut back or eliminate caffeine from their diets slowly, depending on how much they’re drinking. Maybe start by cutting out one serving every day or every couple of days to avoid the headaches. These headaches typically only last a day or so at the most, while the benefits of cutting caffeine can last far longer.

Dr. Franklin’s practice is located at Methodist Medical Plaza South. For more information about Dr. Franklin, call (317) 865-6750.

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