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Caffeine is consumed daily by 85% of Americans. Its side effects can be a 'double-edged sword'

Caffeine’s chemical properties actually help a person feel like they have more energy by working to increase blood flow throughout the body

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Energy drinks, such as Monster Energy, can contain upwards of 200 milligrams of caffeine, and can be purchased by anybody at virtually any gas station in the United States. (Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic)

For the early-rising workaholic or the 5 a.m. gym nut, caffeine may be part of a morning ritual for the day.

Whether it’s waking up before an hour-long commute or bringing blood to the muscles to pump some iron, a study published by the National Institutes of Health asserts that 85% of Americans drink at least one caffeinated beverage each day .

Kat Thomsen, a registered dietitian at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell, said caffeine consumption is not a major concern of healthcare providers — if consumed in moderation.

“Caffeine is a natural stimulant, so it's found in different seeds or beans around the world like coffee beans,” Thomsen said. “I think the advice for caffeine goes for almost everything, that it’s OK in moderation.”

MORE FROM NEWSMD: Mitchell native part of South Dakota State team unraveling how cancer evades immune system

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Some governments around the world classify caffeine as a drug , but the United States takes a different stance. While the NIH acknowledges that caffeine has addictive properties similar to many scheduled drugs, it considers caffeine reliance a dependency, not an addiction .

Caffeine’s chemical properties actually help a person feel like they have more energy by working to increase blood flow throughout the body.

“It's a central nervous stimulant. A lot of times it's tied to exercise because it helps people perform a little bit better when they get the right amount, just because it's stimulating the central nervous system, their heart and their muscles as well,” Thomsen said.

When it enters the body, caffeine will bind to receptors in the nerves, helping to block chemicals associated with stress, which can help an individual feel more alert.

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Caffeine is contained in many popular drinks. Monster Energy (outside) typically contains 160 milligrams of caffeine in their standard can, while Peace Tea (inside) contains just 23 milligrams in their standard size. (Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic)

Despite this, Thomsen said there’s a limit to how much caffeine should be consumed in a day.

“The national limit is 400 milligrams a day,” Thomsen said. “One energy drink is 180 milligrams a day. One drink of coffee is a little bit less than that, so you're going to be within the recommended range for caffeine, but it's multiple drinks that could add up to be too high.”

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Some popular brands of pre-workout actually contains up to 330 milligrams of caffeine in a single serving.

A study published by the National Coffee Association found more than half of Americans were cutting that limit close , consuming an average of over 300 milligrams of caffeine each day.

“I think a lot of people don't realize that too much caffeine can be harmful,” Thomsen said. “If you're drinking two or more energy drinks in a day, long term that can cause undue stress to your body.”

Overstimulation of the central nervous system can cause the heart and muscles to work too hard, which over time can cause damage to their long-term performance.

“If you're doing that, chronically, too much, that's where you can start to see potential damage to your body,” Thomsen noted.

It also can harm the brain, as being too alert throughout the day carries a chance to feel anxious while making it harder for your brain to settle down for a healthy night’s sleep.

“Short term, you're maybe a little bit more on. But the same side, though, is sleep can also help you actually perform better and focus, too,” Thomsen said. “So that's kind of a double-edged sword. If you're taking so much caffeine that you're not sleeping, well, It's probably not helping.”

Ultimately, Thomsen recommends individuals take note of where caffeine comes from, noting other ingredients in energy drinks may not be as beneficial to the body as caffeine from coffee or tea.

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“I think the source of your caffeine matters, too. There's obviously going to be some health benefits to drinking coffee or tea,” Thomsen said. “Regular soda or energy drinks probably aren't going to give you the same benefits.”

Thomsen believes caffeine can be part of a well-balanced life, as long as the consumer practices moderation. She suggests individuals with too high of an intake slowly wean off the substance.

Avera Health offers one-on-one visits with dietitians and nutrition specialists to determine what diet can best support an individual’s health goals at their facilities throughout Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Related Topics: HEALTH
A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on regional news that impacts the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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