More than 90 percent of the world’s population consumes caffeine in some form on a regular basis. The stimulant drug (yes, it is considered a drug) helps a person stay awake, alert and productive. Some coffee drinkers couldn’t imagine rising and shining without their daily java fix, or getting through the afternoon without a spot of tea. And plenty of people turn to sodas and chocolate for a little jolt. However, many people habitually go overboard, and a considerable body of research finds that can be detrimental to one’s health. Caffeine over-consumption has been linked to heart palpitations, high blood pressure, tremors, dehydration, anxiety and panic attacks.
Concerned that over-consumption of caffeine may actually be a public health issue, the European Commission requested the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) review existing research on the safety of caffeine in its various forms, and then determine guidelines to those unsure if their four-latte-a-day habit could be harming their health. According to the report, seven of the 13 countries in the European Union evaluated have a high population of people who exceed 400 milligrams of caffeine each day, which is equal to about four 8-ounce cups of coffee. Approximately 33 percent of people in Denmark, 17.6 percent in the Netherlands and 14.6 percent of Germany surpass the recommended amount.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration likewise suggests people not exceed more than 400 milligrams of caffeine each day.
The report from the EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies published this week suggests that it’s generally safe for the average person to consume 400 milligrams of caffeine each a day. The panel hoped to make scientifically backed recommendations for pregnant and lactating women, children and adolescents but were unable to identify studies that evaluated the effects of caffeine on these specific populations.
“Single doses of caffeine up to 200 [milligrams] from all sources do not give rise to safety concerns for the general healthy adult population,” the panel writes in the report. “The same amount of it does not give rise to safety concerns when consumed less than two hours prior to intense physical exercise under normal environmental conditions.”
A 200-milligram serving of caffeine is equivalent to approximately two 8-ounce cups of coffee, four 8-ounce cups of tea, three shots of espresso or two cans of Red Bull. A dark chocolate bar contains approximately half that amount of caffeine, while a Venti Starbucks coffee is double this amount.
Though the report looks at a range of caffeine sources, it doesn’t necessarily determine if one beverage is safer than others. However, health experts would most likely agree that a daily fix from coffee or tea is better for one’s health than a sugary soft drink.
Coffee, in particular, has received a lot of positive press in recent years. Consuming a modest amount has been linked to a decreased risk for a number of health conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, erectile dysfunction and certain types of cancer.