Coffee, tea, Diet Coke, energy drinks—most of us ingest a major dose of caffeine on a daily basis. But what is it actually doing to our insides?
Caffeine isn't necessarily the root of all evil—even experts say you can have a tea or coffee here and there as part of normal, balanced diet. However, when you drink too much caffeine, your body finds it pretty tough to handle; it quickly becomes the shitty boyfriend of the beverage world, giving you the buzz you're craving, but messing with everything from your heart to your mind in the process.
"We know that caffeine can cause heart palpitations, which means it can be dangerous if you have existing heart problems," Shona Wilkinson, nutritionist at Superfooduk.com, explains. "Drinking caffeine can also raise blood pressure, which again is dangerous for the heart. Tests have been conducted on people with high blood pressure and have shown that blood pressure dramatically increases after caffeine and stays elevated for up to three hours."
If you've got digestive problems, you might have noticed that drinks with caffeine in them make your stomach act up. This is because it increases the amount of acid in your stomach, upsetting the balance and giving you acid reflux, ulcers, or an upset tummy.
Long term, caffeine can affect bone density, as it interferes with ossification, or the laying down of new bone. OD on caffeine, and you might find yourself more prone to bone fractures or even osteoporosis as you age.
And it's not just your insides. "Caffeine can also affect our mood," Shona notes. "This is due to the extreme highs and lows which you get with caffeine. It can cause irritability and restlessness as well as anxiety and panic attacks"—so if you are prone to these conditions, it's worth consulting with your doctor to make sure your caffeine intake is on a safe level.
Before you start sobbing into your morning cappuccino, it's not all bad news: caffeine can also do you some good in the recommended doses.
"Caffeine is sometime recommended for people to drink before they head to the gym," Shona says. "This is because caffeine makes the fat cells break down body fat. This makes them release into the blood as free fatty acids and makes them available as fuel for your body. It increases adrenaline levels in the body which help with exercise." Americano before a workout? You don't have to tell us twice.
The odd cup of java can also help with a sore head—and not just on hangover day. "Although too much caffeine can bring on a headache, a bit of caffeine can help reduce inflammation. It is often an ingredient in prescription pain killers for this very reason," she adds.
So how much caffeine is safe to drink?
The recommended limit is approximately 400mg per day, which is about 3-4 cups of coffee. For your reference, there are around 25mg in your average cup of tea—but don't forget to count the sneaky caffeine in foods like chocolate, too.
If you're often over the limit, it's a good idea to cut down, but don't (we repeat DON'T) go cold turkey.
Caffeine is a legit addictive substance, and you need to withdraw from it gradually to avoid side effects like headaches, muscle pain, and fatigue.
Try replacing it with caffeine-free alternatives, herbal teas, or infused waters with citrus for an energy zing instead. Once your addiction is under control, and unless there's a medical reason not to, you can still treat yourself to the odd can of Coke or iced coffee—and we bet you notice the difference when you do.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.