Just How Much Coffee Is Too Much?

Store sign with a poem addressed to coffee

I like it too much to quit.

In 1511 it was banned in Mecca for stimulating radical thinking. King Gustav III of Sweden outlawed it in 1746, believing it to fuel inappropriate behavior.

Various health authorities have told us for years of harmful side effects.

But I just can’t help myself.

You see, I don’t just enjoy coffee. For better or for worse, it’s become an indispensable part of my life.

I have one cup — sometimes two — before my morning workout. I drink another when I arrive at a client’s office. There’s usually a third before lunch, one or two after…

I average 5 to 7 cups of coffee every day.

Coffee’s long been a staple of the modern diet. But how much is too much?

Am I drinking myself to death?

Coffee Benefits

We already know several benefits of coffee, like its ability to boost testosterone up to 15% before exercise and its strong antioxidant properties.1, 2

Here are a few that might surprise you:

  • The more coffee you drink, the lower your risk for Type 2 (Adult-Onset) Diabetes3
  • Drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day may reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease by 65%(!)4
  • Excess just might be a good thing. Finnish researchers found that 5 or more cups of coffee was correlated with a lower risk of Parkinson’s Disease.5

Finally, drinking coffee might actually keep the Reaper at bay. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, non-smokers who averaged 4-5 daily cups of coffee had a significantly lower risk of death than their abstaining peers.6

Two caveats here: that lower risk was correlated with coffee consumption. The research team couldn’t determine causation. Second, while two other studies supported the same results, the Mayo Clinic actually found a greater correlation between death and coffee consumption.7

So, while the majority supports a favorable correlation, the jury’s still out.

Side Effects

Before you go out and slam a pot of coffee like a frat boy with his first bottle of Peach Schnapps, keep a few things in mind.

First, caffeine affects everyone differently. Your body’s sensitivity to caffeine depends on genetics as well as the tolerance you’ve developed over time.8 For example, I can drink a cup of coffee at 5 p.m. and still fall asleep before 10.

Second, guys that are more sensitive to caffeine may experience one or more of the following side effects:

  • Insomnia9
  • Upset stomach10
  • Anxiety11

Generally speaking, these side effects can be experienced with daily consumption greater than 600 mg of caffeine, or six cups of coffee.

Personally, I don’t usually experience negative side effects. I’ve never had insomnia or anxiety from coffee. I’m also smart enough to skip my fourth (or fifth, or sixth…) cup if my stomach doesn’t feel like it can handle it.

That said… quick story. We flew to L.A. the other weekend for my father-in-law’s retirement party. I woke up at 4:15 Friday morning to make our 7:05 flight. We live in Florida, and there’s a 3 hour time difference between the coasts. So, “normal” bedtime in California was already past midnight for my body, which still thought it was back home.

All that, plus getting woken up by the kids a few times overnight, had me pounding much more than my typical share of coffee. Saturday evening my voice was hoarse, and by Sunday I’d lost it completely. Laryngitis can be caused by reflux, so it’s possible that the an upset stomach generated reflux and chastised me accordingly.

The only concession I made while recovering was to cut back to three cups Sunday and Monday.

I returned to my normal dose just a few days later.

I enjoy coffee as part of my daily routine. I don’t plan on making any changes, unless new research reverses earlier findings. Or I lose my voice again.

How about you? How much coffee do you drink? Have you experienced positive or negative effects?

References

1. Beaven, C.M., Hopkins, W.G., Hansen, K.T., Wood, M.R., Cronin, J.B., Lowe, T.E. (2008). Dose effect of caffeine on testosterone and cortisol responses to resistance exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 18(2), 131-141. [URL]

2. Svilaas, A., Sakhi, A.K., Andersen, L.F., Svilaas, T., Ström, E., Jacobs Jr., D.R., Ose, L., Blomhoff, R. (2004). Intakes of Antioxidants in Coffee, Wine, and Vegetables Are Correlated with Plasma Carotenoids in Humans. J Nutr, 134(3), 562-567. [URL]

3. Huxley, R., Ying Lee, C.M., Barzi, F., Timmermeister, L., Czernichow, S., Perkovic, V., Grobbee, D.E., Batty, D., Woodward, M. (2009). Coffee, Decaffeinated Coffee, and Tea Consumption in Relation to Incident Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review With Meta-analysis. Arch Intern Med, 169(22), 2053-2063. [URL]

4. Eskelinen, M.H., Kivipelto, M. (2010). Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis, 20(1), 167-174. [URL]

5. Hu, G., Bidel, S., Jousilahti, P, Antikainen, R., Tuomilehto, J. (2007). Coffee and tea consumption and the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Mov Discord, 22(15), 2242-2248. [URL]

6. Freedman, N.D., Park, Y., Abnet, C., Hollenbeck, A., Sinha, R. (2012). Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality. N Engl J Med, 336(12), 1891-1904. [URL]

7. Liu, J., Sui, X., Lavie, C.J., Hebert, J.R., Earnest, C.P., Zhang, J., Blair, S.N. (2013). Association of coffee consumption with all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality. Mayo Clin Proc, 88(10), 1066-1074. [URL]

8. Yang, A., Palmer, A.A. (2010). Genetics of caffeine consumption and responses to caffeine. Psychopharmacology, 211(3), 245-257. [URL]

9. Rétey, J.V., Adam, M., Khatami, R., Luhmann, U.F., Jung, H.H., Berger, W., Landolt, H.P. (2007). A genetic variation in the adenosine A2A receptor gene (ADORA2A) contributes to individual sensitivity to caffeine effects on sleep. Clin Pharmacol Ther, 81(5), 692-698. [URL]

10. Börger H.W., Schafmayer, A., Arnold, R., Becker, H.D., Creutzfeldt, W. (1976). The influence of coffee and caffeine on gastrin and acid secretion in man (author’s transl). Dtsch Med Wochenschr, 101(12), 455-457. [URL]

11. Adan, A., Prat, G., Fabbri, M., Sànchez-Turet, M. (2008). Early effects of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee on subjective state and gender differences. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry, 32(7), 1698-1703. [URL]

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