Caffeine is a type of chemical found in coffee, tea, and colas. It is called a stimulant because it speeds up your breathing and heart rate. It also increases the stress hormones in your body. If you consume too much caffeine, you may feel dizzy, restless, get headaches, and have difficulty sleeping.

Caffeine is habit forming, but it is not considered addictive. If you drink caffeinated beverages regularly, your body will get used to having caffeine. If you cut down on your caffeine intake, you will likely have withdrawal symptoms like headaches and fatigue for a few days to a week. You can avoid these symptoms if you cut down on the amount of caffeine in your diet gradually.

Because of these effects, many people feel that everyone should be careful about the amount of caffeine they consume caffeine. The caffeine in 1 to 2 cups of coffee or 2 to 3 cups of tea equals 50 to 200 milligrams. This amount per day may be harmless for most people. Pregnant and breast-feeding women should be more careful.

Caffeine has not been linked to any disease. It may make your bones lose calcium. Large amounts of caffeine may cause heart attacks in people with heart disease, but it is not believed to cause heart disease. Usually, only individuals with a history of heart disease must follow a caffeine-free diet.

Sources: "Caffeine and Women's Health." The Association of Women's Health, Obstetric, and Neonatal Nurses, International Food Information Council Foundation, 1994.

Boyle, M., Whitney, E., Personal Nutrition. (New York: West Publishing Company, 1989).

If you have a question about caffeine, go to "Ask the Nutritionist."

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