For as far back as I can recall, I have been a tea drinker. It wasn’t just any tea. I sought out the boldest, maltiest black tea for its rich caffeine content. Three cups a day was essential to jolt me into focus and to keep me motivated. The caffeine made me feel anxious, but I refashioned the anxiety to drive productivity.
Language has always intrigued me. I was taught from a young age that enunciation should be precise and communication should be lucid. This became very important to me, especially when I became a Dietitian. As a consultant, conversation is part of my daily life.
It’s no wonder that, when I started noticing a strange pattern in my speech, it felt out of place. I noticed my words would jumble when speaking, almost like my mind was racing with thoughts but what came out was a word salad. The only solution was to consciously slow down and redeliver the message more eloquently. The pattern was evident to me, and, surely, to my audience.
Perhaps I’m just nervous, I thought.
It was what made the most sense to me.
I went to Japan this year. Now, prior to this trip, I hadn’t crossed the international date line in a decade, so I knew that my internal clock would require adjusting once landing on the other side of the globe. I didn’t think, however, that it would hit me that hard.
For the first five days, I was terribly jet-lagged – I would wake at 3 am local time (when nothing was open) and be ready to call it a night by 5 pm (life of the party!). The change in schedule completely disrupted my caffeine regimen – I barely had any tea. When I did, the idea of a potent black tea suddenly seemed unfit, even though it had been part of my daily routine for years. In a land where green tea is king, there was little need for convincing otherwise.
Green tea is milder than black tea – its lower caffeine content kindles a gentle and gradual feeling of wakefulness. As the trip progressed, I began to find that green tea was beyond adequate to keep me awake. In a period of omission, the human body learns to reset itself. As such, my inclinations had adapted – so much so that it felt like I had only ever been a green tea drinker.
The best part? I no longer felt the nervousness. In fact, I felt sharper and more controlled.
In hindsight, I realize that what I had experienced were caffeine jitters. I had overdosed on caffeine. Really. The amount that I was consuming and the inherent acuity of black tea had overstimulated my nervous system.
While caffeine contains antioxidants and offers potential benefits to heart health, mood, and metabolism, excessive intake bears its risks. Excessive caffeine can cause anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and dehydration. If caffeine is metabolized slowly, it can elevate your heart rate and blood pressure, causing sympathetic (fight or flight) overdrive, which is dangerous for people with propensity for heart disease.
So, how much is too much? Healthy adults should aim to limit caffeine consumption to 400 mg per day. To put it into context, a grande (16 oz) brewed coffee contains approximately 300 mg of caffeine. Pregnant or breastfeeding women and children should limit their intake further.
So there it was – caffeine overdose. We are creatures of habit and it is often difficult to identify something as a problem when it feels so second nature.