Energy Overdose: How Much Caffeine Do We Really Need?

Caffeine RX

We’ve all been there: it’s two-o-clock in the afternoon and several more hours of work remain, but the energy to power through is seriously lacking. Taking a nap is not always feasible, nor is a midday trip to the gym.

A lot of us gravitate toward coffee or strong tea in the hopes that we can get through the rest of the day with both eyes open. For the past decade, however, a potent and far more aggressively marketed option has become a prevalent fix in the United States.

A 24-ounce can of Monster contains an estimated 240 milligrams of caffeine, which is 40 mg more than the daily dose of caffeine advised by the FDA. It is, after all, a drug.

Since many people consume more than one energy drink in a single day, let’s take a look at what all of that caffeine is doing for (or against) us.

Is caffeine a problem?

According to research conducted in 2009, caffeine is the most widely used drug in North America, with 98% of the population consuming it in some form.

With such high national consumption, a different article seems to emerge each week insisting that caffeine is good for you, and the next that it is detrimental to your health. It’s important to bear in mind that most studies done by approved researchers are fairly consistent on the most important points.

The message about caffeine is similar to the message about most foods and substances: moderation is key. A little bit of coffee won’t hurt most people and depending on the person may be helpful. Excessive caffeine, however, can be very damaging. Most reputable studies agree, also, on what “excessive” means in regards to this psychoactive stimulant.

The FDA’s research has indicated that a moderate amount of caffeine generally equates to 100-200 mg per day. That’s approximately one to two 4-ounce cups of coffee. Anything above 400mg amount can cause adverse symptoms such as arrhythmia and nervousness in adults. 600 mg—equivalent to 4-7 cups per day—is considered by experts to be an excessive amount. Children should stay away from caffeine altogether.

To understand why excessive caffeine might not be a great idea, it’s important to note the effect it can have on your brain and body. Among others, here are the symptoms that caffeine has been found to cause or exacerbate when used above recommended doses:

  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Arrhythmia
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Pregnancy complications

In energy drinks, caffeine’s peak effects occur within the first hour after consumption, at which point a sugar crash is initiated. Despite the effects waning very early on, caffeine usually stays in the bloodstream for a full 12 hours. After the 12-hour period, withdrawal can occur. Withdrawal symptoms commonly include headaches and irritability.

This timeline may account for many consumers’ tendency to drink additional caffeinated beverages once that sugar crash occurs, rather than at least waiting for the full 12-hour cycle to conclude. Unfortunately, consuming more and more caffeine only builds your tolerance to it. When you consistently drink a lot of energy drinks, you have to consume increasing quantities over time in order to continue experiencing their energy-enhancing properties.

Caffeine is also known to cause toxicity and overdose. From 2004-2009, energy drink sales increased 240%. Within the same period, annual emergency room visits due to caffeine overdoses rose from a low of around 1,000 to a high of over 16,000. 56% of the patients in these instances were between the ages of 12 and 25.

The intensity of energy drinks is not only attributed to caffeine, however. There are two other common ingredients called taurine and guarana, whose potentially adverse effects are seldom mentioned by energy drink companies.

Triple dosage: The effects of adding taurine and guarana to caffeinated beverages

Given what we know about the potential intensity of caffeine, it’s reasonable to wonder why energy companies add additional stimulants to their products. A 24 oz. can of Monster contains the high-caffeine guarana plant extract and taurine, an additive with similar effects to caffeine. Monster declines to disclose exactly how much caffeine is in its beverages including these supplementary stimulants.

Energy drink companies may attempt to assuage consumer concerns by explaining that taurine naturally occurs in the human body and certain foods, but they neglect to highlight the real issue at hand. The caffeine found in coffee also comes from a natural source, but that doesn’t negate its adverse effects in excessive amounts. It’s hard to imagine that adding multiple extra stimulants to an already significant level of caffeine is not excessive.

Guarana is a Brazilian plant that has gained global popularity in recent years for its ability to promote weight loss as well as its stimulating effects. The seed found inside each guarana fruit has about three times as much caffeine as a coffee bean. Guarana is found in many popular energy drinks, including Monster and Rockstar.

Energy drinks don’t always advertise these additional properties because they classify themselves as dietary supplements instead of as foods, which enables them to disregard FDA restrictions on caffeine content.

Should we stop drinking caffeine altogether?

Given the increasing focus and sustained energy levels that modern life requires of us, it is completely understandable that caffeine has become a nationwide staple. It is not inherently harmful, but like many drugs it is very easily abused. The influx of emergency room visits and proven health concerns demonstrate that caution is absolutely warranted when it comes to our caffeine consumption.

Because of the suggestive and misleading way that they are marketed, energy drinks are not a neutral and innocuous beverage option. It is clear that many people are developing unhealthy patterns with these products. The companies that produce them have a responsibility to be transparent about exactly how much caffeine is in every single can, and how the ingredients may negatively impact customers if consumed in excess.

In the end, it’s all well and good to promise health benefits, superhero strength and unbeatable social standing, but not when what you’re really delivering is a heightened opportunity for poor health, impaired judgment and addiction.

If you’ve suffered any of the symptoms associated with caffeine toxicity after consuming energy drinks, call us or fill out our form immediately. Our team will evaluate your case for free and guide you through your legal options.