Strolling to the Nebraska Union Starbucks for an iced caramel macchiato or gulping down a Bang energy drink while studying for a test might not sound like a big deal, but nutrition experts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recommend being mindful of caffeine consumption.

March is National Caffeine Awareness Month, which serves as a reminder for people to be aware of the amount of caffeine they consume daily and whether it is doing more harm than good to the body.

Caffeine is a natural stimulant that is found in different compounds, such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, chocolate, soda and certain types of medication.

Caffeine is supposed to block receptors to inhibit people from feeling tired, according to Steve Woita, assistant director for wellness and fitness with Campus Recreation Center. Kayla Colgrove, extension educator for Nebraska Extension, said the alertness from consuming caffeine is why most people seek it out.

The United States Food and Drug Administration recommends not consuming more than 300 to 400 milligrams of caffeine daily, which is typically about four cups of coffee, according to Jean Ann Fischer, human sciences program leader for Nebraska Extension and nutrition education program director.

Woita said going over 400 milligrams can be potentially unsafe. However, Fischer said that amount does not technically apply to every adult.

“It really depends on the individual,” Fischer said. “Everybody metabolizes caffeine differently.”

According to Woita, Colgrove and Fischer, some positive effects of caffeine include, but are not limited to:

  • Increased energy levels

  • Increased alertness

  • Enhanced cognition 

  • Enhanced focus

  • Enhanced sports performance

  • Deterred migraine or headaches

They also listed some negative effects of caffeine, which include, but are not limited to:

  • Increased heart rate

  • Increased anxiety

  • Increased agitation or irritability

  • Upset stomach

  • Mood swings

  • Restlessness

  • Migraines or headaches

  • Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia

When it comes to coffee, Fischer said there are a lot of differing studies on the healthiness of it, especially when it comes to risks of high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer or Parkinson’s disease. Studies about the healthiness of tea tend to have more consistency in the literature as far as highlighting the positive aspects of tea due to the amount of vitamins and nutrients usually found in it, Fischer said.

However, Fischer said it ultimately comes down to the individual, their family history and how they react to consuming different types of drinks or food that contains caffeine. For example, Fischer said some people might experience more gastrointestinal irritation with coffee compared to when they drink tea.

“Look at your overall health patterns, especially because a lot of times when we start to see increased caffeine levels, it’s a result of other health behaviors that maybe are detrimental,” Fischer said.

College students might be tempted to mix caffeine with alcohol, but Colgrove said it is important to not mix the two because caffeine can mask the depressant effects of alcohol, which makes people feel more alert than they would otherwise and can cause them to drink more alcohol.

Woita said caffeine withdrawal can look very different between people, but headaches are usually the most common side effect for caffeine withdrawal. Woita said to avoid caffeine withdrawal, it is important to not stop consuming caffeine altogether and to gradually decrease the amount of caffeine you intake instead.

“If you do want to cut back, you do have to be careful because your body does get used to a certain amount of caffeine,” Colgrove said.

Colgrove said it is safe and healthy for people to consume caffeine as long as people are aware and cognitive of how much they are consuming.

“I think [the importance] is becoming aware of how much you intake throughout the day,” Colgrove said. “Be aware that [caffeine] does have benefits, but it also has those negative effects as well.”