Dr. Jacqueline Gerhart: Is It Bad To Drink Coffee Every Day?

UW Health Family Medicine physician Dr. Jacqueline GerhartMadison, Wisconsin - UW Health Family Medicine physician Jacqueline Gerhart writes a column that appears Tuesdays on madison.com and in the Wisconsin State Journal. Columns are re-published here with permission.


Dear Dr. Gerhart: I recently stopped drinking coffee as part of a 10-day detox, but I'm debating starting it again because I'm tired. How bad is it to drink coffee every day?


Dear Reader: This is a very relevant question given that our country is becoming more caffeinated. Compared to 2011, coffee consumption is up 11 percent. We spend about $40 billion per year on coffee in the U.S. More than 50 percent of Americans above the age of 18 drink coffee, and the average coffee drinker has 3.1 cups per day.


For me, coffee isn't part of my daily routine, but it's pretty close. I confess I often visit the Capitol Square Starbucks. I like the green straws and the friendly employees.


Speaking of Starbucks, you should know that all coffee drinks are not equivalent in caffeine content. For example, a cup of drip coffee from McDonald's has about 100 mg of caffeine whereas the same 16-ounce cup of Pike Place roast from Starbucks has 330 mg. And decaffeinated coffee may have caffeine - on the order of 25 mg - which is about the same as an 8-ounce cup of green tea.


How much caffeine you can or should have varies on a variety of factors. Men are likely to be more sensitive to caffeine than women. People with anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorders (like ADHD), or with palpitations, heart disease or kidney disease also need to be cautious. Furthermore, caffeine may more greatly affect the elderly and those with a low body mass index. In general, moderate caffeine intake (200-300 mg daily) does not increase your risk of side effects like insomnia, lightheadedness, palpitations, anxiety and irritability. But heavy intake (500 mg or more) often causes side effects in a naive caffeine drinker or an occasional consumer.


There are benefits to drinking coffee. A recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine actually showed that coffee drinking was associated with a lower risk of death. This study looked at the coffee habits of more than 500,000 American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) members. The authors pointed out that those who drank coffee were more likely to smoke and to consume alcohol. But once the study took away the effects of smoking and alcohol and focused only on the coffee, they saw multiple benefits. It seems that drinking coffee was actually protective. Those who drank coffee didn't seem to die as often from things such as heart attacks and strokes. And overall, the coffee drinkers seemed to have lower mortality rates.


There are some negatives to coffee such as increased frequency of urination (caffeine is a diuretic), upset stomach (heartburn or diarrhea), dental staining and bad breath. There are also health risks for kids and adolescents. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 100 mg of caffeine for a child in a given day, and that it should be used very sparingly. If used daily or at higher doses, kids may be prone to hyperactivity, anxiety and attention difficulty. Pregnant women should also be cautious. According to the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy, 200 mg of caffeine per day has not been shown to have effects on the baby, but greater than 500 mg per day could be harmful.


In summary, while overuse of coffee may cause some health problems, and even lead to tolerance or addiction to caffeine, a cup or two per day is likely not harmful - and may even be beneficial.


This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Gerhart to people submitting questions.

Date Published: 07/24/2012

News tag(s):  jacqueline l gerhart

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