Perk Up: The Scoop on Drinking Caffeine Responsibly


Water is essential to many of the body's important processes, so we know we should be drinking it every day. But, for many, there's another daily drink that absolutely can't be missed - coffee! To learn more about the effects of coffee and other caffeinated beverages, we called on Lucas Couch, D.O. at Carroll Health Group, a LifeBridge Health partner.

Dr. Couch explains that caffeine stimulates receptors in our brains which produce the awakening effect so many of us have come to rely on. While caffeine is a vasoconstrictor, meaning that it causes the muscles in our blood vessels to tighten, it doesn't come with the same degree of risk for long-term vascular consequences posed by other, more potent stimulants. This means that caffeine is perfectly safe to consume in reasonable quantities. In fact, to be in any immediate danger as a result of caffeine consumption, one would have to drink approximately 30 cups of coffee in a day.

Moderate dehydration can be a possible risk of coffee consumption, due to the fact that it is a diuretic, or a substance which stimulates increased urination, but Dr. Couch expresses that this risk can be largely mitigated by consistency and tolerance. "For people who regularly drink coffee, if you drink the same consistent amount, the diuretic effect of coffee is overall seen as negligible." For those who never or rarely drink coffee, the diuretic effects will be more pronounced, but will decrease with regular consumption over time.

Dr. Couch is clear about the fact that caffeine is undoubtedly addictive, and that like any addictive substance, quitting suddenly can result in withdrawal symptoms. However, Dr. Couch qualifies the addictiveness of coffee as low-risk and socially acceptable. A coffee addict by his own admission, Dr. Couch cautions against drinking coffee in drastic excess, such as an entire pot or two a day, but otherwise assures that we can safely drink as much coffee as we need.

So, we now know that coffee poses few risks when consumed reasonably. But for many, coffee just doesn't cut it. Energy drinks present an alternative to coffee and are often stronger, typically containing more caffeine than a single cup of coffee. Many energy drinks also advertise the presence of various vitamins and other supplements, but Dr. Couch confesses that until more studies are conducted, the efficacy of these added substances remains in question. To help sort out this complicated subject for ourselves, Dr. Couch suggests checking out the National Institute of Health's dietary supplement fact sheets, which document the proven effects of many vitamins and supplements often found in consumer products. For example, one such supplement found commonly in energy drinks is vitamin B-12. A quick search on the NIH fact sheet confirms that most Americans receive enough vitamin B-12 from their diet, and don't need the added supplement. While the presence of substances like vitamin B-12 may or may not be beneficial, there is another common inclusion in energy drinks that poses a clear and definite risk: sugar.

According to the FDA, sugar should account for approximately 10% of our daily nutrition - out of a 2,000-calorie daily diet, this translates to about 50 grams of added sugar per day. However, as Dr. Couch explains, this allotment can be easily exceeded due to the presence of sugar in what many may find to be surprising places, from condiments to peanut butter. "They put in everything," says Dr. Couch. Using Monster Energy as an example, he explains that "if you have one of these [Monster Energy drinks] that's 54 grams right there. . . And so you're already over." Coffee drinkers should take heed as well - many prefer to add sugar to their coffee, and many creamers contain large amounts of sugar as well.

While sugar-free alternatives are now available for a wide range of products, including energy drinks and coffee creamers, Dr. Couch maintains that much is still unknown about the artificial sweeteners used in many "zero" and sugar-free products, and that despite their widespread proliferation, the rates at which Americans are diagnosed with obesity and diabetes are still increasing. Sugar-free or not, when it comes to energy drinks, Dr. Couch advises against consuming more than two in a day.

Those who crave caffeine can take comfort in the fact that it doesn't need to be consumed conservatively. However, caffeine drinkers should be aware of their relative tolerances and keep an eye out for the signs of excessive consumption, such as trembling or sweating. Drinking more than a pot of coffee or two energy drinks a day is not advisable, but even for those consuming reasonably, sugar servings should be carefully considered, as excessive sugar consumption can lead to long-term complications such as diabetes and cardiovascular issues. But, as long as sugar is being taken into account and consumption isn't extremely excessive, there's no need to kick the habit. Those drinking caffeine responsibly, Dr. Couch assures, can continue to "go for it." 

Dr. Couch sees patients at Carroll Health Group, a partner of LifeBridge Health. To schedule an appointment online, visit HelloBrave.