Caffeine is basically the Jekyll and Hyde of beverages. At first, those cups of coffee completely energize you, helping you get through your work meetings and deadlines with ease. But after one cup too many, things can quickly take a turn for the worse, leaving you with everything from jitters and headaches to diarrhea and heart palpitations. Yeah, not fun.
To make sure your coffee-drinking habits help you—not hurt you!—it’s important to ensure you don’t overdo it on your caffeine intake. And, have some tools up your sleeve for those days you couldn’t resist ordering one more cold brew from Starbucks. Here’s everything you need to know about caffeine intake, as well as how to counteract caffeine.
How much is too much caffeine?
For many people, caffeine fuels them all day long. That means they’re refilling their coffee cup multiple times in order to keep their energy levels up. There is a limit you should stick to, though, in order to stay healthy. “Safe coffee consumption is considered to be no more than 400 milligrams per day for healthy adults,” says Melissa Nieves, LND, RD, MPH, a registered dietitian at the virtual personal trainer company Kemtai. “Most of the research that has shown the positive health benefits of coffee are based on a moderate consumption of no more than three to four cups a day.”
While 400 mg might not sound like a lot, it’s more than you would think. According to the Mayo Clinic, that’s about the amount of caffeine in four cups of brewed coffee. Going beyond that amount could cause you to experience some uncomfortable symptoms and side effects that will quickly alert you that you’ve had too much.
The symptoms of too much caffeine
If you’ve gone beyond the recommended limit for caffeine, your body will certainly let you know. “Symptoms of too much caffeine generally affect the nervous system, since caffeine is a stimulant,” Nieves says. Those symptoms have a wide range, from mild issues to more serious problems that can really start to affect your life and health.
According to Nieves, the most common symptoms of too much caffeine you may experience are:
- nervousness or jitters
- diarrhea or stomach upset
- irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations
The side effects on too much caffeine
If you have too much caffeine in your body day after day, you may start to experience some side effects. If you’ve been dealing with any of them on a regular basis, you may not have even realized they’re due to your caffeine intake in the first place.
“You may experience anxiety—especially if you’re already prone to it—as well as insomnia if you’re susceptible to it and have caffeine close to bedtime,” Nieves says. “You may also experience dependency and withdrawal symptoms, such as a headache, when you suddenly stop taking it. And heartburn in people suffering from gastritis and peptic ulcers.”
When taken in excess, caffeine can also cause the aforementioned heart palpitations. According to Harvard Medical School, too much caffeine is one of the prime triggers of the heart flutters, where it feels like your heart is skipping a beat.
How to counteract caffeine
If you’ve had too much caffeine and are feeling the effects—be it jitters, a headache, or anxiety—the main thing you have to do is wait it out. “There’s not much to do once caffeine is in your body except wait for it to be metabolized,” Nieves says. With that being said, she does have some things you can do to ease the symptoms.
1. Drink water
One of the best things you can do when you’re feeling the effects of too much caffeine is grab your trusty water bottle. “Caffeine can act as a mild diuretic, and dehydration can make symptoms worse,” Nieves says. “Stay well hydrated until the caffeine naturally leaves your system.”
2. Take a walk
There are numerous benefits to taking a walk. Walking helps with your digestion, boosts your brain health, and—you guessed it—can also counteract the effects of too much caffeine. “Gentle physical activity can help calm the jitters. In fact, working out can help reduce headache symptoms as well,” Nieves says. If walking isn’t for you, also try other gentle workouts like Pilates and yoga.
3. Practice breathing exercises
One of the easiest things you can possibly do to combat the side effects of too much caffeine is breathe. “Deep breathing techniques can help relieve the anxiety that an excess of caffeine can cause,” Nieves says. After you’re done deep breathing, you’ll instantly feel more relaxed. Past research has shown it can help alleviate stress, too.
If you’re not sure how to go about deep breathing, there’s a simple technique you can try. I Wayan Linggen, a healing therapist, recommends lying down, then breathing in as much as you can through your stomach, allowing it to expand like a balloon. After your chest rises, hold your breath for a few seconds before slowly exhaling through your chest then your stomach. “Eventually you will feel warm in your head. This is the easiest way to do deep breathing,” he says.
While you’re lying down with your eyes closed practicing deep breathing, you might as well add some meditation into the mix, too. “Meditation can also be useful to calm all that nervous stimulation,” Nieves says. Instead of just taking a handful of deep breaths, allow yourself to meditate for at least 10 minutes. By doing so, Stevie Wright, a breathwork facilitator, says you’ll increase the supply of oxygen in your brain and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which “promotes a state of calmness.”
The next time you know you’ve had one cup of coffee too many, practice the simple techniques above to help counteract the caffeine. Then do your best to keep that caffeine to the minimum.