Caffeine – that substance that some of us just can’t seem to live without! In 2015, 85% of the U.S. population reported drinking a caffeinated beverage daily, with an average of 165 mg per day. Coffee accounts for 64% of this consumption, followed by tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks.


Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound found in over 60 plants, with the most well known being coffee beans, cacao beans, kola nuts, and tea (Camellia sinensis) leaves. Caffeine acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system, increasing heart rate and respiration. It acts as a mild diuretic, increases energy, and decreases the perception of fatigue.



The research on the health effects of caffeine continues to grow and for the first time ever, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines included recommendations for caffeine intake. The FDA considers up to 400 mg of caffeine to be safe for daily consumption. To put this in perspective, an eight-ounce cup of drip-brewed coffee typically has 65-120mg of caffeine; decaffeinated coffee typically has 5mg or less of caffeine per six-ounce cup; an eight-ounce energy drink contains 50-200mg; an eight-ounce serving of brewed tea has 5-90mg; and caffeinated soft drinks have 30-60mg per 12 oz serving. Other sources of caffeine include chocolate and some over the counter pain relievers and prescription medications.

Moderate caffeinated coffee consumption has been associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some types of cancer. Regular consumption also may play a role in protecting against Parkinson’s disease. However, the guidelines do not encourage non-caffeine drinkers begin this habit for health benefits alone.


There are some potential harmful consequences of high caffeine intake. While research is limited, consumption of more than 400 mg per day of caffeine has been associated with caffeine toxicity and cardiovascular events. Several clinical trials found that consumption of unfiltered coffee lead to an increase in total and LDL cholesterol. This effect was not seen with the consumption of filtered coffee however. Coffee often contains added calories with the addition of cream, milk and sugars and the dietary guidelines recommend minimizing these additions.  Limited and mixed research has been done on the health effects of energy drinks with high caffeine levels and more research is needed to assess their impact on health. However, it is strongly suggested that consumption of energy drinks and other caffeinated beverages be avoided when drinking alcohol. Caffeine can mask the symptoms of alcohol intoxication without having any effect on the metabolism of the alcohol. This results in an awake state of intoxication, increasing the possibilities of alcohol-related injuries.

The effects of caffeine can vary from person to person, and it is important to be aware of how your own body reacts to it. While it does make you feel full of energy and vitality, this perception could be false. Caffeine is not an appropriate substitute for getting a good night’s rest, and the energy and nourishment that comes from a healthy diet.  If you have questions or are concerned about your own caffeine intake, you are encouraged to speak with one of our nutritionists or your physician.


To see the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines on caffeine visit:

To see the scientific report that led to the development of the guidelines visit:


Leigh Osborne

Bastyr University Student Intern



US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office; 2015.

US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015. 8th Edition. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office; 2015.

Know Your Caffeine. Red Bull North America, 2016.

Caffeine In Natural Medicines Database. Updated 6/25/2015.,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=979


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