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Is it okay for me to drink tea or coffee?

There has been extensive observational study on the consumption of tea and coffee and its health risks.  For the most part, 3-5 cups of tea or coffee per day seems to be the amount of consumption that promotes the best health outcomes.  Perhaps unexpectedly, people who drink this amount of tea or coffee, are generally at lower risk for a particular disease than people who do not drink any tea or coffee.  In epidemiologic terms, "exposure" to tea and coffee in these amounts is actually "protective."  (If you would like to read more about a recent study in China that showed tea and coffee consumption reduces the risk of dementia and stroke, follow this link to for more information.)

Since tea and coffee consumption appears to be generally beneficial, the more important question is probably "Who should avoid drinking tea or coffee?"  Some of these reasons are listed below:

  1. If tea or coffee aggravate a person's anxiety.  For many people who have panic disorder, caffeine consumption can precipitate or worsen a panic attack, particularly if they haven't slept enough or in a stressful situation.
  2. If caffeine consumption causes or worsens insomnia.  In general, if someone is having trouble falling asleep at night, it is a bad idea for them to drink tea or coffee after 3pm as it generally takes about 6 hours for their body to remove the caffeine from their system.  For similar reasons, it is okay for someone to drink tea or coffee to help get their day started or avoid an afternoon nap, and this could help someone fall asleep easier at night.
  3. Caffeine consumption can aggravate high blood pressure or certain types of abnormal heart rhythms.  If this is the case, a person should speak to their primary care doctor or cardiologists about whether it is okay for them to drink tea or coffee.
  4. Caffeine can decrease the amount of energy required to stimulate the brain and can make it more likely for someone to have a seizure.  If someone is susceptible to having seizures or suffers from epilepsy, they should speak to their neurologist about whether they should drink tea or coffee.  Interestingly, for patients who are getting treated with TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation), it is important for them to have similar levels of caffeine in their body every time they have TMS therapy, so that they will get consistent treatment.
  5. Tea or coffee consumption can cause lower levels of certain psychiatric medications.  In practice, this is not often a problem, but it is something to consider if a medication that was previously effective stops working around the same time the person is drinking more tea or coffee than usual.

There are a few other less common reasons to avoid tea or coffee, so if you any additional concerns, you should ask your primary care or mental health provider at your next visit.  Otherwise, go ahead and enjoy you next cup!

Salvatore Savatta, MD

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