Decreasing Your Caffeine Intake
Although extensive study has found no certain link between moderate caffeine intake and increased risk of significant health conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and birth defects, there are some conditions that may be improved if you decrease your caffeine intake. If your health care provider suggests that you cut down on caffeine, here are some steps to help you do so.
Caffeine is a mild stimulant. Many people drink coffee, tea, or soda for this effect—it helps them feel more awake and alert. However, this stimulant effect can also cause jitters, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. Each person's tolerance to caffeine is different, and with age, we appear to become more sensitive to the effects of caffeine. There is also some preliminary evidence that persons whose metabolism of caffeine is genetically slower than others’ may be at higher risk for heart attacks if they consume caffeine.
Your health care provider may recommend that you reduce caffeine intake in certain situations. For example:
- If you are pregnant or nursing—during pregnancy, you may be more sensitive to caffeine. Also, caffeine can pass through the placenta and breast milk to your baby.
- If you have a specific medical problem—for example, high blood pressure, other risk factors for heart attack, gastritis, or ulcers. Talk to your doctor about how caffeine affects you in order to determine if you need to cut back.
First, you'll need to know all the possible sources of caffeine in your diet. The following table should help you judge the relative caffeine content of different beverages. While chocolate does not contain caffeine, for some people the “theobromines” in chocolate have similar effects. We have also listed the caffeine equivalents for some chocolate products below.
Cut Back Gradually
Some people experience headaches or drowsiness if they go "cold turkey" from their caffeine intake. Decreasing over a period of time can help prevent these effects. Try the following:
- Mix half regular and half decaffeinated coffee
- Drink instant coffee, which has less caffeine than regular coffee
- Brew tea for a shorter time; a 1-minute brew contains about half of the caffeine that a 3-minute brew contains
If you find that one of the above three methods of gradual cutting back works for you, then you can proceed to the following:
- Drink decaffeinated coffee or tea which has almost no caffeine
- Drink herbal tea, which naturally has no caffeine
- Replace coffee, tea, and soda with water or juice
If, like most people these days, you are watching your waistline then don’t forget that juices and sugar-containing soft drinks may have more calories than some of the caffeinated beverages you are giving up.
You may be surprised at the caffeine content of your favorite beverages or of some of the over-the-counter products in your medicine cabinet. Be sure to check labels for the caffeine content. Many sodas and other products come in caffeine-free forms, so look for these.
Center For Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
US Food and Drug Administration
International Food Information Council
Canadian Council on Food and Nutrition
Canada's Food Guide
The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food & Nutrition Guide. Chronimed Publishing, 1998.
Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). Available at: http://www.cspinet.org/new/cafchart.htm. Accessed May 11, 2004.
Cornelis MC, El-Sohemy A, Kabagambe EK, Campos H. Coffee, CYP1A2 genotype, and risk of myocardial infarction. JAMA. 2006 Mar 8;295(10):1135-41.
Lopez-Garcia E, van Dam RM, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, Rexrode KM, Hu FB. Coffee consumption and coronary heart disease in men and women: a prospective cohort study. Circulation. 2006 May 2;113(17):2045-53.
Last reviewed May 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg MS, RD, LDN
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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