Dangers of Too Much Caffeine

Energy Drink Image

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency is investigating a number of "adverse event reports" involving highly-caffeinated energy drinks. As of October 2012, the possible connection between six adverse health events — five deaths and one heart attack—and popular energy drinks is being investigated, but a causal link has not been established.

Results of a study published in JAMA in November 2015 indicate that young adults who consume a 16-ounce energy drink may experience a significant increase in blood pressure and stress responses within 30 minutes. According to researchers, these effects increase cardiovascular risk.

Caffeine is categorized as "generally recognized as safe" by the FDA. It's a bitter substance found in coffee, tea, certain soft drinks, chocolate, kola nuts and some medicines (including over-the-counter stimulants used to promote wakefulness).

Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the body in several ways. It can increase alertness and provide a boost of energy, and may have some health benefits. However, caffeine can affect people differently.

Large amounts of caffeine increase heart rate and blood pressure significantly—which can be serious and potentially fatal in people with certain medical conditions, including a known or undiagnosed underlying heart problem like cardiac arrhythmia. diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, seizures (epilepsy), hyperthyroidism and certain mood/behavior disorders also can increase the risk for adverse health effects associated with a high caffeine intake.

Health problems associated with large amounts of caffeine, and potentially linked to highly-caffeinated products, have increased in recent years—especially in young people to whom energy drinks are typically marketed. In 2011, an article published in Pediatrics indicated that about half of the 5,000 caffeine overdoses reported in 2007 occurred in people 18 years of age or younger.

It's generally recommended that

  • people who are sensitive to caffeine,
  • women who are pregnant or nursing,
  • people who take certain medicines or supplements,
  • people who have certain medical conditions, and
  • children and adolescents limit their consumption of caffeine.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that adolescents limit caffeine intake to no more than 100 mg per day and younger children avoid the regular consumption of caffeinated beverages all together.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), signs of caffeine overdose include the following:

  • Confusion, changes in alertness
  • Convulsions
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased thirst, urination
  • Irregular heartbeat, rapid heartbeat
  • Muscle twitching
  • Stomach pain, vomiting
  • Trouble sleeping

If you experience any of these symptoms after consuming caffeine call the National Poison Control Center at 1.800.222.1222 from anywhere in the United States, or dial 9-1-1.

As of October 2012, manufacturers of caffeinated products are not required to list the amount of caffeine the product contains on the nutrition label. On average, a cup of regular coffee has about 100 mg of caffeine, regular tea has about 50 mg, regular cola has about 45 mg, and some energy drinks have 240 mg of caffeine or more per serving. Exact amounts can vary substantially, so it's often difficult to determine exactly how much caffeine you're consuming. Also, some energy drinks contain other ingredients that may further increase the concentration of caffeine in them.

According to FDA regulations, caffeinated energy drinks can be marketed as beverages (food) or as dietary supplements. Products categorized as foods are regulated differently than those categorized as diet supplements.

Popular energy drinks include the following:

  • Amp
  • Full Throttle
  • Monster
  • NOS
  • Red Bull
  • Rockstar
  • Energy shots (e.g., 5 Hour Energy)

Several studies have shown that there are additional health risks when highly-caffeinated products are combined with alcohol or drugs. Energy drinks that contain alcohol were banned by the FDA in 2010. If you have questions or concerns about whether caffeine is safe for you, talk to your health care provider.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 24 Oct 2012

Last Modified: 09 Nov 2015