Two new studies offer an extremely wide range for harnessing coffee’s stimulating effects.

By Mike Pomranz
May 14, 2019

For most Americans, drinking coffee is as much of an integral part of the workday as setting an alarm, commuting to the office, and quietly cursing your boss for hours on end. Depending on which stats you look at, the average person consumes about two to three cups of coffee per day: its stimulating effects a backbone of our lives. But how much coffee do we really need? And how much is too much? Turns out two recent studies offer up two polar extremes of American coffee consumption.

Daniel Grizelj/Getty Images

On the lower bound, a study published last month determined that, in Western societies where coffee consumption is common, simply seeing or smelling coffee is enough to get a buzz going. “Across four experiments with participants from Australia, Canada, and the United States, we found that exposure to coffee, without actually drinking it … may be enough to increase heart rates, increase felt arousal, and gives you the energy to focus more on immediate pressing tasks, thereby reducing your procrastination,” co-author Eugene Chan of Australia’s Monash University wrote for the site Thrive Global.

Hopefully needless to say, however, Chan also points out that this doesn’t mean you can completely think away your costly Starbucks habit. “The effects that we find are short-term and definitely smaller in intensity than actually drinking coffee,” he later adds. “You can’t get the buzz to last all day from seeing just a picture of coffee once.”

This explains why most of us find ourselves on the other end of the spectrum: worrying about how much coffee we can drink while still staying healthy. Luckily, there’s a new study for us too. Last week, researchers at the University of South Australia posted their answer to the question “How many cups are too much to drink a day?” after digging through UK Biobank data of 347,077 people from the ages 37 to 73. In what the school bills as “the first time an upper limit has been placed on safe coffee consumption and cardiovascular health,” the study determined that, after five cups, things can start to get precarious.

“In order to maintain a healthy heart and a healthy blood pressure, people must limit their coffees to fewer than six cups a day,” explained co-author Elina Hyppönen, “based on our data six was the tipping point where caffeine started to negatively affect cardiovascular risk.”

Okay, but what if we combine the two studies? At what point does looking at too many pictures of coffee become a problem? Not that I’m spending too much time on Google Images or anything… Just asking is all.

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