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Ask Dr. Scott: Wheeeeeeeee! I need more coffee

You drink it to keep you going throughout the day, but how much is too much?

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Q: Dr. Scott, I know I drink too much coffee. What are my health risks from drinking so much coffee?

A: Americans run on caffeine and other stimulants. Americans now drink more than half of the coffee produced in the entire world. Coffee is served everywhere, every day and for almost every event. When patients tell me that they don’t drink coffee, they usually say that they drink tea or some type of caffeinated soda or pop. Caffeine is really used as a ‘medication’ to help overcome one’s own growing fatigue and to sharpen mental functioning.
In small doses, the immediate effect of caffeine increases metabolism, increases body temperature, acts as a diuretic, and stimulates the secretion of gastric acid.
But in large doses, coffee can produce headaches and jitters, and over-produce insulin (hunger hormones). Consumption of over 600 mg/day (more than 2 cups) may cause insomnia, anxiety, depression, and stomach upset. Drinking caffeine is related to heart palpitations and high blood pressure.
Caffeine also interferes with the absorption of minerals, and leaches out B vitamins from the body, particularly thiamine, which is needed for stress control.
Some people experience headaches while drinking coffee, while other people experience headaches after trying to withdraw from coffee drinking. Coffee is also linked to PMS symptoms in women. It’s possible that blood sugar or liver problems are made worse by an increase in caffeine intake, thereby upsetting a woman’s delicate endocrine balance. (Medford, 1999)
Additionally, for years I’ve noticed that patients who quit drinking coffee lose weight much faster than those who don’t.
Caffeine as an artificial stimulant increases arousal and alertness — that’s 1-2 cups of coffee per day. But it’s often followed by an energetic depression, or a dip in performance.
If you are unused to consuming caffeine, the stimulant effects may be very noticeable
But if your body is accustomed to large quantities of caffeine you may experience withdrawal effects if you stop consumption (tiredness, lack of energy, headaches). This means YOU ARE ADDICTED to coffee!
The brain becomes accustomed to a certain level of caffeine, consequently more and more is needed to prevent fatigue. The effects of caffeine may last as long as 5–8 hours after ingestion
While we think of coffee as a way to get our day started, it also has effects on our sleep, if according to some studies. Taken prior to sleep, caffeine usually delays or shortens sleep. It also reduces the overall amount of REM sleep a person receives.
Stephen Cherniske’s book “Caffeine Blues: Wake Up to the Hidden Dangers of America’s #1 Drug”, (1998) shows a definite link between the amount of caffeine you drink and your risk of disease. His bottom line is that if you drink between one- to three-hundred milligrams a day (1 or 2 cups) you are already putting your life and health at risk. If you drink 300 to 900 milligrams a day, you are addicted. If you drink 4 or more cups of coffee a day, your heart disease risk factors are significantly increased.
Cherniske offers coffee drinkers a quick nervous system test: extend your arms out in front of you, palms down. If there is any noticeable trembling, caffeine has damaged your nervous system.
The caffeine in coffee, chocolate, sodas and tea is a legal stimulant drug. When we can’t get our early morning dose of caffeine, we experience symptoms typical of withdrawal from any drug: headaches, anxiety, and the jitters.

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