Health & Wellness

Is It Time to Cut Down on Coffee?

Too much caffeine can lead to health problems


By Katrina Caruso


We Canadians love our coffee. In 2015, Canadians ranked No. 1 among out of 80 countries as the leading consumers of coffee per capita.

Coffee’s main ingredient—and perhaps the primary reason so many of us reach for that morning cup—is caffeine, a naturally derived plant compound. It’s in coffee beans, tea leaves, and cacao seeds, amongst other sources.

Caffeine can offer many health benefits if taken moderately. It can help with alertness, combatting fatigue and improving concentration. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system, giving the consumer a feeling of energy and focus. Some people use it as an appetite suppressant when dieting. There have also been claims that coffee can help to reduce cancer risk, though there’s a lot more study to be done before we can know for sure.

A cup of coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine, but the amount can vary widely. Instant coffee, on average, offers about 63 mg, and espresso normally ranges between 47 mg and 64 mg. By comparison, an energy drink can have about 31 mg per cup.

Health Canada recommends that Canadians keep their caffeine consumption to under 400 mg per day—about three eight-ounce (250 mL) cups of regular coffee. According to the Mayo Clinic, daily consumption of over 500–600 mg of caffeine can lead to insomnia, muscle tremors, nervousness, upset stomach, and other problems.

Caffeine has shown that it can contribute to an overproduction of cortisol, which causes a fight-or-flight bodily response in the body—when there is too much cortisol in the body, an internal stress alarm is triggered and the body is on high alert, which isn’t good for us. Some symptoms of too much cortisol are anxiety, depression, problems concentrating, sleep problems, weight gain, and heart disease. Too much cortisol can also lead to high blood pressure, irritability, and jitteriness.

While the cortisol response to caffeine does reduce over time if someone consumes caffeine regularly, it doesn’t go away completely, and one study from 2005 showed that too much cortisol production impacted a person’s health long-term.

Some people can develop a caffeine addiction and suffer negative effects when in withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal can include headaches, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and even nausea.

Should you find yourself experiencing any negative effects from coffee or symptoms of withdrawal, you should bring it up when speaking with your doctor.

Photo: iStock/Rawpixel.