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Take care of your heart: use caffeine wisely
Americans love their daily dose of caffeine whether coffee, tea, cola or chocolate, to wake up and stay alert. Almost 50 percent of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee a day.

For a healthy person, caffeine in the diet is not a harmful habit, but for heart patients, this chemical stimulant can aggravate heart problems.

“The caffeine found in some of our favorite beverages and foods is harmful to patients who have existing heart problems. If they’ve had a heart attack, have abnormal heart rhythms, hypertension or any coronary artery disease, I advise them to avoid caffeine completely,” says Palmetto Health Heart Hospital cardiologist Dr. Robert Schulze.

He advises these patients to eliminate caffeine because of its effects on the heart. Studies show that caffeine can:

cause arrhythmias, or abnormal heart rhythms
increase heart rate
increase rate of breathing
increase force of heart beat
raise levels of stress hormones
raise blood pressure temporarily
reduce exercise-related blood-flow to the heart
For those of you without heart problems, it is important to use caffeine in moderation and limit the amount you have each day to about 250 to 350 milligrams. That’s roughly three cups of coffee, or four or five glasses of iced tea.

Limiting your daily intake of caffeine is important because the substance is easily habit-forming. Caffeine is a mild chemical stimulant that is part of the organic compound group called alkaloids, which includes morphine, codeine, cocaine and nicotine.

Some researchers claim it is the fifth most addictive substance in the United States. Research has shown that as little as 100 milligrams of caffeine per day can cause some individuals to develop withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, if caffeine is not consumed.

“Caffeine’s effects on the body, and what is considered a ‘safe’ amount, vary from person to person,” says Dr. Schulze. “If you want to stop having caffeinated beverages or switch to decaf, do not quit suddenly. Slowly lower your intake over two to four weeks.”

Healthcare professionals recommend having caffeine in moderation. Here’s a glance at the caffeine content in some beverages, food and non-prescription medications.

8 oz. brewed coffee: 40-180 mg.
8 oz. instant coffee: 30-120 mg.
8 oz. decaffeinated coffee: 3-5 mg.
8 oz. iced tea: 6-60 mg.
8 oz. brewed American tea: 20-90 mg.
8 oz. brewed imported tea: 25-110 mg.
12 oz. soft drink: 36-90 mg.
8 oz energy drink: 35-90 mg.
8 oz. hot cocoa: 4 mg.
1 oz. dark (semi-sweet) chocolate: 5-35 mg.
1 oz. milk chocolate: 1-15 mg.
1 tablet appetite suppressant: 200 mg.
1 tablet of medication to help stay alert: 100-200 mg.