If one of the first things you do when you wake up is make yourself a cup of coffee or tea, you’re not alone. The U.S. leads the world in daily coffee consumption, with about 83% of adults consuming this beverage every day. Averaging three cups per person, that’s 587 million cups in the U.S. alone.

While it’s clear that we love these caffeinated beverages, how and why did that become so?

Common Forms of Caffeine

Historically, tea first became popular around 2700 BC in China. With its origins in Africa, coffee didn’t make its first appearance until around 575 AD.

Caffeine, and coffee especially, has the ability to unlock the positive reward systems in our brain. Dopamine, a brain chemical that affects our emotions and sensations of pleasure and pain, is stimulated via caffeine so that feeling of euphoria you sometimes might experience with your first cup of coffee is due to the caffeine you’re consuming.

Caffeine is not only limited to coffee and tea, although those are some of the most popular forms. You’d be surprised which of your common food items contain caffeine. For instance, many major ice cream brands have between 30 and 45 milligrams in just half a cup. Even your decaf coffee will contain traces of caffeine.

Cocoa beans are a natural carrier of the stimulant, so that can also explain why consuming chocolate can bring you joy! Additionally, caffeine often lurks in items like breath mints and common pain relievers.

Effects of Caffeine

If you’re a part of the majority of the population that consumes caffeine regularly, you’re in luck. Moderate coffee drinking has been linked to a decreased chance of developing Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. Preliminary studies have even linked it to a lowered incidence of a form of brain cancer, and some researchers believe it can activate a DNA-repairing protein in cells.

Tea has a lot going for it as well. There’s evidence that tea consumption lowers risks of heart attack and stroke. While the research isn’t overwhelming, there is some that suggests that tea can aid in weight loss, and that it can help the fight against cancer and bone loss. The calorie-free beverage also contains antioxidants that allow your body to run like a well-oiled machine.

Everything in Moderation

While there are many reasons to consume caffeine, there are also things to be on the lookout for. As with most parts of our diet, moderation is key.

The same brain power that makes us love caffeine can work against us. Too much of it and it can move us right on past focus and concentration to insomnia, irritability, nervousness, and restlessness. Caffeine can make a heart race, and even cause muscle tremors.

It’s important to know one’s limit. Caffeine is metabolized at different speeds, in different bodies; knowing how varying amounts can impact you is the best way to determine how much caffeine you can safely consume.

It’s also important to note that caffeine can be addictive. Cutting it out of one’s diet or even simply reducing the intake level can be painful. Headaches, fatigue, concentration issues, nausea and vomiting are all possible outcomes of removing the stimulant from one’s diet.

How Much is Enough?

Most research suggests that up to 400 milligrams, or four cups, is just about the sweet spot in terms of consumption. After that, the chances that you’ll experience negative side effects rise quickly. Whether you’re planning on drinking more or drinking less, a gradual change in the amount consumed is the best way to avoid negative side effects.

Sources:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/04/09/coffee-mania/2069335/

http://www.history.co.uk/shows/big-history/articles/caffeine-0

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-food/201110/why-does-coffee-make-us-feel-so-good

http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/nutrition_news_information/health_reasons_to_drink_coffee_and_cons_to_consider?page=2

http://www.livestrong.com/article/208418-what-is-dopamine-responsible-for/

http://www.today.com/series/one-small-thing/top-10-health-benefits-drinking-tea-t81111

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/271707.php

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678