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How much is too much caffeine?

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How often do you hear the expression around the office from colleagues, “I’ll be fine when I get my caffeine fix’? We’ve all experienced it, the slight buzz and the extra energy that caffeine gives us, and let’s be honest it does help us get going in the morning as it is an essential part of our morning coffee at breakfast time or on the train into work. But caffeine is a drug and like any other drug; how much is too much?

Recently an American teenager died from what the coroner described as a ‘caffeine induced cardiac event’. Sixteen year old Davis Allen Cripe, over the space of just two hours drank a large McDonald’s latte and a large Mountain Dew soft drink before following it up with an energy drink. This amount of caffeine induced an irregular heartbeat and he subsequently collapsed and died at his high school in South Carolina.

The coroner reported that his death was not prompted by the drinks or even the amount of caffeine in his system, but crucially it was the time frame in which he consumed them, just two hours.

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So what is the advice for all of us in so far as how much caffeine can our bodies process?

BUPA UK’s official line is that everyone has a unique tolerance; but essentially adults should not consume more than 400 mgs of caffeine a day. This is roughly equal to four coffees a day. Soft drinks, and particularly energy drinks, can often contain as much as 80mg of caffeine as well as other stimulants.

Of course, whilst too much caffeine might not kill you it will, almost inevitably give you other symptoms such as irritability, light headed, anxiety and dehydration and can also prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. Then there is the possibility of headaches, increased heart rate and stomach pains.

Doctors explain the effects of consuming too much caffeine on the human body as like a shock to the system and the brain reacts the only way it knows how, by triggering a body wide defence. The brain signals the heart to beat faster, leading to anxiety and the dehydration is caused by changes in the brain’s neurotransmitters.

Your individual tolerance to caffeine is similar to your tolerances for alcohol and some drugs and it varies considerably from person to person. Some people have a very high tolerance others very low. It also depends on your weight, age, health history and to a small degree on your gender.

The medical advice on caffeine is a simple one. It is safe to consume but, like most things, in moderation. If your body doesn’t feel right it is telling you something and you should listen to it. Cut back or cut caffeine out of your diet if you seem to be experiencing any of the usual symptoms. If in any doubt seek medical advice from your GP or a chemist.

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