Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Caffeine: Friend or foe?

4/30/2020 by Dr. Luke Hafdahl


With the current pandemic, it's the small joys that are so important to get through the day. For millions of Americans, the quality of the day often hinges on that morning cup of coffee, evening spot of tea or soda at lunch. While these beverages may give us a lift or soothe our souls during these troubled times, is the caffeine they contain good for us? There's a lot of information out there; these FAQs may help you sort it out. 

Is caffeine good for anything?

It's not just in your head. In healthy adults, caffeine can temporarily improve your ability to think and even help with headaches. Beyond this, we're not sure it does much else that's good. For instance, you may have read about caffeine making you live longer and protecting you against disease, like Parkinson's, but the jury is still out on this. 

How much is too much?

It appears that 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe, if you're a healthy adult. This is about the same as three to four cups of coffee, four to six cups of tea, eight cans of soda or two energy drinks. Most products should let you know how much caffeine is in them. 

How do I know if I'm having problems from caffeine?

Sometimes it can be hard to know, but there are a lot of symptoms that show evidence your body may not be liking caffeine — irritability, insomnia, feeling nervous, urinary urgency and headache are bothersome symptoms of caffeine. However, caffeine can cause more serious issues, such as elevated blood pressure and dangerous heart rhythm problems. 

Who shouldn't drink caffeine?

Children have plenty of energy, which is a clue they don't need any more! People with insomnia should avoid caffeine. If you have certain heart problems, caffeine poses risks, so ask your doctor about consuming caffeine. For women who are pregnant, modest caffeine use seems to be okay, but limiting it to about 200 milligrams per day is recommended. 

How should I cut down?

Stopping cold-turkey won't hurt you, but it may not feel good. You'll likely have a headache, feel run down and be a bit crabby for a few days! Another is the go-slower route:

  • So you know your starting point, write down how much caffeine you consume every day. 
  • Then slowly decrease the amount. For example, drink one less cup of coffee for a week. 
  • Switch to decaf! Almost all the great-tasting beverages you love have a caffeine-free or caffeine-reduced version. 

The current pandemic has limited us in a lot of ways, and the small joys in life really are important right now. For healthy adults, caffeine in moderation can be an ally to help us get through the day. However, be vigilant for problems and have a plan ready to cut down. 

And, don't forget to wash your hands!

Dr. Luke Hafdahl is a consultant and assistant professor in Primary Care in Rochester/Kasson's Division of Community Internal Medicine (CIM). He has a particular interest in medical education.