Caffeine: How Much is Too Much?

How much caffeine is too much? If you rely on caffeine to wake you up and keep you going, you aren’t alone. Millions of Americans start their days with one of more cups of coffee. We love the routine, the smell of brewing coffee, and that first cup, whether made at home or purchased during the day.

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, alleviating fatigue, increasing wakefulness, and improving concentration and focus. But when is too much of a good thing just not so good anymore?

When to consider cutting back

For most healthy adults, moderate doses of caffeine – 200 to 300 milligrams (mg), or about two to four cups of brewed coffee a day – aren’t harmful. But some circumstances may warrant limiting or even ending your caffeine routine.

If you drink four or more cups a day, take note. Although moderate caffeine intake isn’t likely to cause harm, too much can lead to some unpleasant effects. Heavy daily caffeine use – more than 500 to 600 mg a day – may cause

  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Stomach upset
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Muscle tremors

Coffee and caffeine in other forms – such as in tea, soda and chocolate – may make you jittery. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than are others. If you’re susceptible to the effects of caffeine, just small amounts – even one cup of coffee or tea – may prompt unwanted effects, such as restlessness and sleep problems.

How you react to caffeine may be determined in part by how much caffeine you’re used to drinking. People who don’t regularly drink caffeine tend to be more sensitive to its negative effects. Other factors may include body mass, age, medication use and health conditions such as anxiety disorders. Research also suggests that men are more susceptible to the effects of caffeine than are women.

How caffeine can interfere with sleep and medications

Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. But caffeine can interfere with this much-needed sleep. Chronically losing sleep – whether it’s from work, travel, stress or too much caffeine – results in sleep deprivation. Sleep loss is cumulative, and even small nightly decreases can add up and disturb your daytime alertness and performance.

Using caffeine to mask sleep deprivation can create an unwelcome cycle. For example, you drink caffeinated beverages because you have trouble staying awake during the day. But the caffeine keeps you from falling asleep at night, shortening the length of time you sleep.

Additionally, certain medications and herbal supplements may interact with caffeine. Here are some examples.

  • Some antibiotics. Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) and norfloxacin (Noroxin) – types of antibacterial medications – can interfere with the breakdown of caffeine. This may increase the length of time caffeine remains in your body and amplify its unwanted effects.
  • Theophylline (Theo-24, Elixophyllin, others). This medication – which opens up bronchial airways by relaxing the surrounding muscles (a bronchodilator) – tends to have some caffeine-like effects. Taking it along with caffeinated foods and beverages may increase the concentration of theophylline in your blood. This can cause adverse effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and heart palpitations.
  • Echinacea. This herbal supplement, which is sometimes used to prevent colds or other infections, may increase the concentration of caffeine in your blood and may increase caffeine’s unpleasant effects.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether caffeine might affect your medications. He or she can say whether you need to reduce or eliminate caffeine from your diet.

Curbing your caffeine habit

Whether it’s for one of the reasons above – or because you want to trim your spending on pricey coffee drinks – cutting back on caffeine can be challenging. An abrupt decrease in caffeine may cause caffeine withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, irritability and nervousness. Fortunately, these symptoms are usually mild and resolve after a few days.

To change your caffeine habit more gradually, try these tips:

  • Keep tabs. Start paying attention to how much caffeine you’re getting from foods and beverages. It may be more than you think. Read labels carefully. Even then, your estimate may be a little low because not all foods or drinks list caffeine. Chocolate, which has a small amount, doesn’t.
  • Cut back. But do it gradually. For example, drink one fewer can of soda or drink a smaller cup of coffee each day. Or avoid drinking caffeinated beverages late in the day. This will help your body get used to the lower levels of caffeine and lessen potential withdrawal effects.
  • Go decaf. Most decaffeinated beverages look and taste the same as their caffeinated counterparts.
  • Shorten the brew time or go herbal. When making tea, brew it for less time. This cuts down on its caffeine content. Or choose herbal teas that don’t have caffeine.
  • Check the bottle. Some over-the-counter pain relievers contain caffeine – as much as 130 mg of caffeine in one dose. Look for caffeine-free pain relievers instead.

If you’re like most adults, caffeine is a part of your daily routine. And most often it doesn’t pose a health problem. But be mindful of those situations in which you need to curtail your caffeine habit.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

You Can’t Control Genetics, But You Can Control Your Lifestyle

September is National Cholesterol Education Month, a good time to get your blood cholesterol checked. National Cholesterol Education Month is also a good time to learn about lipid profiles and about food and lifestyle choices that help you reach personal cholesterol goals.

Heart disease and cholesterol

High blood cholesterol affects over 65 million Americans. It is a serious condition that increases your risk for heart disease. The higher your cholesterol level, the greater the risk. Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens your risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of having a heart attack or dying of heart disease.

How cholesterol causes heart disease

When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it builds up in the walls of your arteries. Over time, this buildup causes arteries to restrict or block blood flow to the heart. Blood carries oxygen to the heart, and if enough blood and oxygen cannot reach your heart, you may suffer chest pain. If the blood supply to a portion of the heart is completely cut off by a blockage, the result is a heart attack.

High blood cholesterol itself does not cause symptoms; many people are unaware that their cholesterol level is too high. That’s why it is important to know your cholesterol numbers.

Lowering cholesterol levels that are too high lessens the risk for developing heart disease and reduces the chance of a heart attack or dying of heart disease, even if you already have it. Cholesterol lowering is important for everyone–younger, middle age, and older adults; women and men; and people with or without heart disease.

Understanding what your cholesterol numbers mean

Everyone age 20 and older should have their cholesterol measured at least once every five years. It is best to have a blood test called a “lipoprotein profile” to find out your cholesterol numbers. This blood test is done after a nine- to 12-hour fast and gives information about your:

  • Total cholesterol (less than 200 is desirable)
  • LDL (bad) cholesterol – the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries (less than 100 is optimal)
  • HDL (good) cholesterol – helps keep cholesterol from building up in the arteries (the higher the number the better. Less than 40 in men and less than 50 in women is considered low)
  • Triglycerides – another form of fat in your blood (less than 150 considered normal)

What affects cholesterol levels?

A variety of factors can affect cholesterol levels. These are things you can do something about:

  • Diet. Saturated fat and cholesterol in the food you eat make your blood cholesterol level go up. Saturated fat is the main culprit, but cholesterol in foods also matters. Reducing the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet helps lower your blood cholesterol level.
  • Weight. Being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease. It also tends to increase your cholesterol. Losing weight can help lower your LDL and total cholesterol levels, as well as raise your HDL and lower your triglyceride levels.
  • Physical Activity. Not being physically active is a risk factor for heart disease. Regular physical activity can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It also helps you lose weight. You should try to be physically active for 30 minutes on most, if not all, days.

There are things you cannot do anything about but which also affect cholesterol levels. These include:

  • Age and Gender. As women and men get older, their cholesterol levels rise. Before the age of menopause, women have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After the age of menopause, women’s LDL levels tend to rise.
  • Heredity. Your genes partly determine how much cholesterol your body makes. High blood cholesterol can run in families.

The more you understand how cholesterol works and the role of genetics and your lifestyle options, the better your chance of living a long, healthy life.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Fall into Walking for Low-Impact, High-Benefit Results

As cool evenings and shorter days approach, we anticipate the richness of Autumn, in all its majestic color and beauty. This transitional season is a great time to be outdoors, and provides a valuable wellness benefit—walking. Walking offers a significant return on investment, and doesn’t cost anything but a little time.

As we age we need more exercise. Physical activity helps to prevent bone loss, increase muscle strength, and reduce the risk of several other diseases associated with aging. Being physically active is a key to maintaining a higher quality of life and independence. Walking improves fitness, physical function, and prevents physical disability for aging adults. For older adults, moderate activity can come from longer sessions of walking or swimming, shorter sessions of vigorous walking or stair climbing.

It is recommended that adults participate in moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Walking has the lowest impact on bones and joints, and often is an easy form of exercise to blend into your day at the office, factory or wherever you work, as well as a great family activity on the weekends.

Benefits of walking:

  • Reduced risk of coronary heart disease, and improved blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and blood lipid profile
    Women in a recent health study (72,488 female nurses) who walked at least three hours per week reduced their risk of heart attack and other coronary illnesses by 35% compared to those who did not walk.
  • Maintain body weight and lower risk of obesity
    Walking at a moderate pace for 30-60 minutes burns stored fat and can build muscle to speed up your metabolism.
  • Reduced risk of osteoporosis
    Walking is effective in decreasing the rate of bone loss in the legs.
  • Reduced risk of breast and colon cancer
    Women who walked briskly at least two hours weekly decreased their breast cancer risk by 18%. Routine walking can also help to prevent colon cancer and improve the quality of life of colon cancer survivors.
  • Reduced risk of non-insulin dependent diabetes (Type 2)
    A formal diabetes prevention program showed that walking 150 minutes per week and losing 7% of your body weight can reduce your risk of diabetes by 58%.
  • Enhanced mental well-being
    Research has shown that depression is lowered 47% in those moderately physically active for 30 minutes, three to five times a week, after 12 weeks.

Walking is one of the least expensive and easiest ways to stay fit. It’s very versatile, and can be completed indoors or outdoors—alone or with others. You can walk before or after work, during lunch, in the evenings, on weekends or whenever it’s most convenient, and join in this healthy, relaxing activity.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Continuing to Beat the Wellness Drum – Why It Matters

As a small business leader, you constantly analyze and evaluate your benefits programs, taking into account growing healthcare expenditures and the personal health and wellness of your employees.

The benefits of progressive, proactive wellness programs are well established. To reduce costs, employees need to become engaged in both their healthcare spending and in reducing their health risks.

Achieving balance through wellness, education, and support

Many organizations are raising employee awareness of health costs and the importance of living healthy lifestyles, while continuing to offer quality healthcare coverage at affordable prices. A standard approach is to focus on wellness, education, and consumer support by weaving wellness into the fabric of your company’s culture.

While one obvious goal of any wellness program is to reduce costs, it is not the primary message. Wellness is about people and improving their quality of life. Successful programs place heavy emphasis on personal outcomes. Employees benefit from access to healthcare education and information on topics ranging from stress management and exercise to healthy cooking. They also benefit from smoking cessation courses and materials, and through an understanding of their own personal responsibility in ensuring their health and wellness.

Making connections between costs and choices

When you integrate wellness and intervention programs, you have the opportunity to educate employees about how the connections between their healthy behaviors and lifestyle choices relate to their premiums and other healthcare costs.

The impact of health data and supportive outreach to drive changes is working for employers across the country. There are a variety of interactive, online health and wellness programs that can help employers enhance the health and productivity of their employees and support a more complete system of care.

The first step, of course, is encouraging your team to complete an in-depth health assessment. This assessment yields revealing, yet actionable information for the individual, and can be used to help guide the employee to programs and actions that will address his or her health needs.

Quality educational courses and materials, sensible fitness activities, and effective communication are all core components of a successful wellness program. Employers must make the connections between medical costs, health risks, and personal responsibility. The more we understand that health risks, many of which are modifiable, drive health utilization and cost, the more effective we can be in helping our employees adjust their behaviors and attitudes toward wellness.

To reap the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!