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Ask the Doc.

Byline: Dr James Briscoe

Q I'M becoming concerned about my caffeine intake. Are there any dangers with caffeine and what happens if you have too much?

JULIE, Stourbridge

A CAFFEINE is one of a group of methylxanthines that also comprises theophylline and theobromine.

They are all found in cola nuts, coffee, tea, and cacao beans as well as other plants.

Although these compounds are very similar, they have different biochemical effects and are present in different ratios in the different plant sources.

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system as well as affecting the heart muscle and the respiratory system, and acting as a diuretic.

Excess caffeine ingestion, known as "caffeinism", is defined as a toxic condition marked by diarrhoea, elevated blood pressure, rapid breathing, heart palpitations and insomnia, caused by excessive intake of coffee and other caffeinecontaining substances.

Caffeinism can occur if you have above 600mg to 750mg of caffeine per day.

Drinking more than 1,000mg per day is well into the toxic range.

The symptoms of caffeinism can include feelings of anxiety and nervousness, sleep disruption (especially difficult getting off to sleep), restlessness, irritability, diuresis (passing lots of water/urine), stomach complaints, tremulousness, palpitations and arrythmias (changed heart rate, especially faster beating).

Around 150mg of caffeine at bedtime (a mug of brewed coffee) has been shown to have a marked effect on how long it takes to get to sleep, and to reduce total sleep time, the quality of sleep and REM (dreaming) periods.

Caffeinism can make some illnesses such as anxiety more resistant to drug treatment.

People who suffer from panic attacks may be more sensitive to the stimulant effects of caffeine.

If you are taking more than about 600- 750mg a day of caffeine, you would probably feel better if you took less.

However, stopping caffeine suddenly is not a good idea as withdrawal effects - most commonly headaches - are likely.

The best plan is to reduce this gradually to a safer level, preferably over several weeks.

You can reduce your intake in many ways including:

Use decaffeinated (or at least instant) coffee and/or tea

Avoid brewed coffee or strong tea

Mix decaffeinated coffee powder with ordinary coffee powder to make a lowercaffeine drink

Either drink smaller volumes of coffee or tea or make the drinks weaker

Drink caffeine drinks less often

Do not drink too many cola drinks.

If YOU have a question about health and wellbeing, write to: Ask the Doc, Sunday Mercury, Weaman Street, Birmingham B4 6AY, or e-mail

Should I cut my caffeine intake?
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 13, 2007
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