A 17-year-old British student ended up in the emergency room after overdosing on 7 double espressos. Although the young girl made it out unscathed, her misadventure did not fail to raise a question: just how much coffee is safe for us to drink?
The ritualistic morning coffee and after-dinner coffee have become important in our lives and a great number of us simply will not do without. Although the caffeine contained in coffee is generally inoffensive, it can actually provoke serious adverse effects when consumed in great quantities. Restlessness, nervousness, nausea and vomiting are only a few of the symptoms of excessive caffeine consumption.
Experts caution that the acceptable quantity of coffee recommended varies from one individual to another, notably according to age, weight and general health. Health Canada’s recommendations for healthy adults is no more than 400 to 500 mg of caffeine per day, the equivalent of approximately three 8oz-cups (237 ml) of brewed coffee. Pregnant women should limit their intake to a little more than two 8-oz cups of coffee per day, so long as nothing else they consume contains caffeine.
According to various studies, when consumed in moderation coffee could protect against Alzheimer’s disease, reduce the risk of liver disease and even protect our skin against the harmful effects of the sun. However, British scientists raised doubts about its well-known stimulating effect. A recent study from Bristol University found that the levels of alertness of the volunteers who drank coffee were almost the same as those of the volunteers who did not drink any.
Parents should also be concerned about their children’s caffeine intake. Even though children drink neither coffee nor tea, many consume considerable quantities of caffeine by drinking colas and eating chocolate. According to Health Canada, children should not exceed 2.5 mg of caffeine per kilogram of body weight, which corresponds to a can of cola per day for a 4-year-old child.
Coffee lovers should also pay close attention to the serving sizes at their favourite coffee shop. In fact, some servings can contain up to 20 oz of coffee, nearly the suggested intake for an entire day! You should also be weary of the new energy drinks, because they can contain as much caffeine, if not more, than an 8-oz cup of coffee. The caffeine in energy drinks often comes from herbs such as guarana and yerba maté. However, because manufacturers only have to list herbs as ingredients on their product label, the quantity of caffeine contained in the herbs may not appear as a separate ingredient.
Finally, certain over-the-counter medications, like headache and cold remedies for example, and prescribed medications can also contain caffeine. Always read the labels of all over-the-counter medications very carefully, and speak with your pharmacists to learn the caffeine content of your prescription medications.
It is wise to remember that with coffee and alcohol alike, drinking in moderation is always the sensible thing to do. And always keep in mind that caffeine hides in many places, not only in coffee!
For additional information on Health Canada’s recommendations on daily caffeine intake, please visit: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/iyh-vsv/food-aliment/caffeine_e.html