Coffee contains hundreds of bioactive compounds. It’s the single largest source of antioxidants for many people.
Studies also show that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes, neurological disorders, and liver diseases.
However, you may wonder how much coffee is safe to drink and whether excess intake has any risks.
This article explains how much coffee you can safely drink.
- Coffee’s caffeine content
- Excess intake
- Disease risk
- Caffeine during pregnancy
- Recommended intake
How much caffeine is in a cup of coffee?
Caffeine, an active ingredient in coffee, is the world’s most commonly consumed psychoactive substance.
Coffee’s caffeine content varies, ranging from 50 to over 400 mg per cup.
A small home-brewed cup of coffee could provide 50 mg, while a 16-ounce (475-ml) Starbucks grande packs over 300 mg.
Generally, you can assume that an average 8-ounce (240-ml) cup of coffee offers around 100 mg of caffeine.
Several sources suggest that 400 mg of caffeine per day — the equivalent of 4 cups (945 ml) of coffee — is safe for most healthy adults.
However, many people drink much more than that without any issues.
Remember that many other sources of caffeine exist, including tea, soft drinks, energy drinks, chocolate, and certain medications.
Summary: The caffeine content of your morning joe can range from 50 to over 400 mg. Many sources recommend 400 mg of caffeine daily as the safe upper limit for healthy adults.
Short-term symptoms of excess coffee intake
If you drink too much coffee over a short period, you may experience mental and physical symptoms, including:
- upset stomach
- fast heartbeat
If you experience such symptoms after drinking coffee, you may be sensitive to caffeine and should consider cutting your intake or avoiding caffeine altogether.
While it’s possible to die from a caffeine overdose, this is next to impossible from coffee alone. You would have to drink more than 100 cups (23.7 liters) daily.
However, a few rare cases of people dying after taking caffeine supplements.
Summary: Ingesting too much caffeine can cause various symptoms, mostly related to your brain and digestive system.
People tolerate varying amounts of caffeine
Caffeine affects people in different ways. Many genes have been discovered that affect people’s sensitivity to this stimulant.
These genes affect the enzymes that break down the caffeine in your liver and the receptors in your brain that are affected by caffeine.
The effects of caffeine on sleep are also genetically determined. Some people can drink coffee and go to sleep immediately, while others are kept awake throughout the night.
Depending on your genetic makeup, you may tolerate a lot of caffeine — or very little. Most people are somewhere in the middle.
Your acquired tolerance is also very important. Those who drink coffee daily can tolerate much more than those who rarely drink it.
It’s also important to realize that medical conditions can affect sensitivity to caffeine.
You may tolerate less caffeine if you have anxiety, panic disorder, heart arrhythmia, high blood pressure, diabetes, or other medical conditions. If you want to know more about your tolerance, speak to your medical provider.
Summary: Sensitivity to caffeine is highly variable and depends on genes and receptors for caffeine in your brain.
Coffee and longevity
While high caffeine intake causes adverse side effects, coffee has many health benefits. It has even been linked to increased longevity.
Suggested read: What is caffeine, and is it good or bad for health?
In one study in 402,260 people ages 50–71, those who drank 4–5 cups of coffee per day had the lowest risk of death over the 12–13-year study period.
Two other reviews backed similar results.
However, research is mixed. One recent study found that drinking 4 cups or more per day was linked to an increased — not decreased — risk of death in people under age 55.
Note that these and most other studies don’t specify whether “cup” refers to a standard 8-ounce (240-ml) cup or just a generic vessel that people may use to drink coffee, independent of volume.
Nonetheless, variations in volume between differently sized coffee cups are generally not very great.
Summary: Although the evidence isn’t settled, several studies suggest that coffee drinkers live longer — the optimal amount of coffee being around 4–5 cups per day.
Coffee and disease risk
Coffee has also been linked to a reduced risk of various illnesses, including:
- Type 2 diabetes. The more coffee people drink, their risk of type 2 diabetes is lower. One study found a 7% decrease for each daily cup.
- Liver cirrhosis. Drinking 4 cups or more of coffee daily brings the most significant reduction — up to 84% — in liver cirrhosis, a severe consequence of some liver diseases.
- Liver cancer. Your risk of liver cancer is reduced by 44% for every 2 cups daily.
- Alzheimer’s disease. In one study, 3–5 cups per day were linked to a 65% decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Parkinson’s disease. Coffee is associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s, with the greatest reduction seen at 5 cups or more per day.
- Depression. Studies have shown that 4 cups or more of coffee per day are linked to a 20% lower risk of depression and a 53% lower risk of suicide.
Thus, aiming for 4–5 cups of coffee daily seems optimal.
As all of these studies were observational in nature, they cannot prove that coffee caused the reduction in disease — only that coffee drinkers were less likely to get these illnesses.
Suggested read: Decaf coffee: Good or bad?
Yet, these results are worth bearing in mind.
In most cases, decaf coffee should have the same beneficial effects. An exception is for Parkinson’s disease, which seems to be primarily affected by caffeine.
Summary: Coffee consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of many diseases, with the most remarkable effects seen at around 4–5 cups per day.
Caffeine during pregnancy
In pregnant women, caffeine can cross the placenta and reach the fetus. However, the fetus has problems metabolizing caffeine.
Some studies link high caffeine intake during pregnancy with an increased risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature delivery, and lower birth weight.
Pregnant women are generally recommended to limit their intake to 100–200 mg of caffeine per day — about 1–2 cups (240—475 ml) of coffee.
However, many experts recommend avoiding coffee entirely during pregnancy. If you want to be safe, this is a smart choice.
Summary: Concerns about caffeine’s effect on the developing fetus have been raised, so it’s generally recommended to avoid or minimize coffee intake if you’re pregnant.
Recommended coffee intake
Evidence indicates that 4–5 cups of coffee per day may be optimal.
This amount is linked to the lowest risk of premature death and a lower risk of numerous common diseases, some of which affect hundreds of millions of people.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you have to drink coffee.
Avoid this beverage if you are caffeine-sensitive, have certain medical conditions, or simply don’t like it.
What’s more, if you like coffee but find it tends to give you anxiety or sleep problems, you may want to reduce or eliminate your intake.
Furthermore, you can quickly negate the benefits of coffee by adding sugar or other unhealthy, high-calorie ingredients.
Still, optimizing your java to obtain the maximum benefits is possible.
Summary: Evidence suggests that 4–5 cups of coffee daily is associated with the most significant health benefits. However, if you’re sensitive to caffeine, you should aim for lower amounts or avoid coffee altogether.
There’s very little evidence of harm — and plenty of benefits for people who enjoy coffee.
While 4–5 cups per day may be optimal, many people can tolerate more than that without any problems.
If you like drinking a lot of coffee and don’t experience side effects, there’s no reason to stop drinking it.