- Caffeine Intolerance: Signs and Symptoms
- 7 Signs You’re Sensitive To Caffeine
- Coffee Allergies Are Rare But Real, & Here’s How To Tell If You Might Have One
- Mental Illness or Caffeine Allergy?
- ‘It all started with a food sensitivity test.’
- ‘But the biggest culprit? Coffee.’
- ‘I’ll admit, I had to psych myself up for a good two weeks.’
- ‘I know, I know. I started drinking coffee again.’
- All About Caffeine Sensitivity: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Foods and Lifestyle Choices to Limit Its Effects
- What Is Caffeine Sensitivity and What Are the Symptoms?
- What Causes Caffeine Sensitivity Exactly?
- Energizing Drinks That Don’t Contain Caffeine
- Other Proven Strategies to Help Boost Your Energy Naturally
- CASE REPORT
- How to Tell if You Have a Hormone Imbalance
- How to Tell If You Have a Caffeine Intolerance
- Why Caffeine is SO BAD for Hormones
- Ready to Ditch Caffeine? Here’s How
- BALANCE by FLO Living Hormone Supplement Kit
Caffeine Intolerance: Signs and Symptoms
The question is how much caffeine is safe to drink? As with most food intolerances, and reaction to caffeine is classed as an intolerance not an allergy, the answer to this question depends very much on the individual. People are affected by caffeine in different ways; some are much more sensitive than others and have to adjust their intake accordingly. General guidelines say that 4-5 cups of coffee per day is fine, but this may be far too much for some, with symptoms appearing even with the smallest amounts. Of course the caffeine content of a cup of coffee depends on how big the cup is, how finely the coffee is ground, how dark the roast, the brewing method used, how much coffee is used to make the drink and the type of coffee bean used etc. etc.
Caffeine-containing drinks are addictive and the thought of stopping or reducing coffee/caffeine content may be too much to bear, even for those suffering from symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms include headache, irritability, inability to concentrate, drowsiness, insomnia, and stomach pain may appear within 12 to 24 hours after stopping caffeine intake, peak at roughly 48 hours, but usually only last a few days; well worth it for the benefits you might feel to your long-term health.
If you do suffer from symptoms such as IBS, headaches, migraines, lethargy or anxiety, it may not just be the caffeine that is causing the problem. It is estimated that 45% of the population suffer from food intolerance; food intolerance includes sensitivity to small molecules (chemicals) such as caffeine but also reactions to some large molecules (proteins) in foods.
For example it may not be the caffeine in your coffee causing the problem but the coffee beans themselves, or the added milk, or indeed not the coffee at all but reactions to other foods that you are eating. One approach that can be used is to change your diet removing foods identified using a simple blood test for reactions to these large protein molecules in foods (a food-specific IgG test).
7 Signs You’re Sensitive To Caffeine
So many folks (like, literally millions) reach for a caffeinated beverage in the morning in order to wake up and feel alert. And many more drink coffees, teas, and energy drinks as the day goes on, in order to stay awake. But what are the signs you are sensitive to caffeine?
If you have a caffeine sensitivity, even a small amount of the stuff can make you feel downright bizarre, often leading to symptoms that run the gamut from a pounding heart, to headaches, to feelings of anxiety. “The average person can take in about 200 to 400mg of caffeine and experience no side effects and fall asleep without difficulty at bedtime,” Alexea M Gaffney, MD, of Stony Brook Medicine, tells Bustle. “An individual with caffeine sensitivity will experience or caffeine overdose symptoms with ingestion of as little as 100mg of caffeine.”
So, what causes it? “There are several reasons it could happen,” Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO, a Seattle-based Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Arivale Coach, tells Bustle. “One is the way that caffeine affects the brain. There are several gene variants that affect the way the liver metabolizes caffeine, which may impact how people respond to caffeine … There are also genes that increase the predisposition for high blood pressure when caffeine is regularly consumed, and about nine percent of that population has that.”
If you’re sensitive to caffeine, you’ll know. After consuming it, and for hours afterward, you might notice a few (or all) of the symptoms below. If you do, and they’re bothering you, it may be time to get through your day without coffee, and talk to your doctor about a possible sensitivity to caffeine.
1. You Feel Hot Or Your Face Flushes
Andrew Zaeh for Bustle
Regardless of the temperature of the coffee, many people who are sensitive to caffeine feel hot or “flushed” after drinking it. “They may feel hot or even start sweating,” Hultin says. “Caffeine sensitivity can be caused by the way caffeine affects the brain so this may be one reason this occurs.”
2. You Really, Really Have To Pee
Andrew Zaeh for Bustle
Caffeine can also affect sensitive people’s GI tract, causing some rather unpleasant side effects. “People who are caffeine sensitive may notice stomach upset when they drink caffeine while others may notice diarrhea,” Hutlin says. “Studies are mixed on why this happens — whether it may be a shift in hormones when caffeine is consumed, or other compounds in coffee could stimulate the bowels.”
Some folks also notice an increased need to pee. “Increased urination is another symptom of caffeine sensitive people because caffeine is a natural diuretic,” she says. “Some people experience more urgency than others.”
3. You Can Literally Feel Your Heart Pounding In Your Chest
Andrew Zaeh for Bustle
If you’re suddenly wildly aware of your heart pounding away after drinking a cup of coffee, there’s a good chance you’re sensitive to caffeine. “Caffeine sensitive individuals may experience palpitations which presents as racing of the heart or an irregular heart beat,” says Gaffney. “It can exacerbate abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation (A-fib) or tachycardias (abnormally fast heart rhythms). This can be accompanied by a rise in blood pressure, which is also a result of caffeine sensitivity.”
Any change in your heart rhythm warrants a trip to your doctor. If it turns out you are caffeine sensitive, they may have you cut back on your coffee intake, or suggest you switch to decaf.
4. You’re Restless In Bed At Night
While others need coffee in order to feel peppy, even a few sips of coffee can cause you to feel a little too peppy. For example, “caffeine can exacerbate restless leg syndrome,” says Gaffney. “The urge to move the legs as well spontaneous jerking leg movements accompanying this syndrome are increased.” This normally happens when you’re lying in bed at night, and can even happen hours after drinking coffee.
Restless leg syndrome can certainly keep you up, but so can the caffeine itself. “People who are sensitive may also notice that they have trouble sleeping because of caffeine, even if it is separated by many hours in the day,” Hultin says. Cue hours of insomnia.
5. You Feel “Jittery” Or Have Muscle Spasms
Andrew Zaeh for Bustle
The jitters might also play out in the form of muscles spasms. “It can cause twitching through increased muscle activity,” Gaffney says. “This can be felt as well as observed as tremors and often accompanies anxiety associated with caffeine intake.” Think eye spasms, shaky hands, and the inability to stop tapping your foot.
6. You Get Super Anxious Or Stressed
Speaking of anxiety, feelings of stress and overwhelm can also increase right after consuming caffeine. “Caffeine increases stimulation in the adrenal glands and can amplify stress levels throughout the day,” health coach Maranda Elkin tells Bustle. “This can elevate one’s perception of stress and cause you to overreact in certain situations.” You might, for example, feel totally overwhelmed when the phone rings, instead of answering it calmly like you usually do.
7. You Feel A Bit Uneasy
If you’re sensitive to caffeine, Hutlin says you might “develop an uneasy, nervous feeling” after drinking caffeine, due to the way it affects your brain. Referred to as derealization, this side effect can make you feel a bit disassociated, and usually happens after drinking large amounts of coffee. But it can happen in smaller doses for sensitive people, too. According to Cindy Pineo on Livestrong, “You may be especially vulnerable to caffeine-triggered derealization if you’re sleep deprived prone to anxiety disorders.”
So if that’s the case, you might want to decrease your caffeine intake, to see if that helps. While most people don’t experience unpleasant side effects after drinking coffee, these symptoms might indicate that you’re sensitive to caffeine, and need to cut back.
Coffee Allergies Are Rare But Real, & Here’s How To Tell If You Might Have One
If your daily coffee consumption rivals that of Lorelai on Gilmore Girls, being allergic to coffee is probably one of the worst things you can imagine. Cue the horror my friendlies, because you can actually be allergic to coffee. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, because allergies to most foods exist, but it’s a bit of a surprise to put two and two together for most of us who take our morning cup of joe for granted.
“The immune system then responds to coffee in a similar way to how it would respond to pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses,” Dr. Stacy Sampson wrote for Medical News Today. “It releases protective compounds, such as histamine, to isolate and destroy the intruding coffee.” It turns out that having an allergic reaction to coffee is actually an immune system response. Basically, your immune system views the coffee as an invader it needs to fight off.
If your beloved coffee has turned against you, you could experience symptoms like skin rashes and hives, nausea and vomiting, trouble swallowing, shortness of breath, a wheezing cough, abdominal cramps and diarrhea, abnormal skin color, a weak pulse or sudden drop in blood pressure, and even dizziness and loss of consciousness, according to Medical News Today.
Coffee allergies are pretty rare, but even if you’re not allergic, you can still have a sensitivity to the stuff. If you have a coffee intolerance, rather than an allergy, you could feel anxious, jittery, and irritable, have trouble sleeping, get an upset stomach, experience an elevated heart rate or high blood pressure, and you might even develop involuntary muscle spasms after drinking coffee, Medical News Today reported.
Dan Koday writing for Women’s Health noted that after discovering he was coffee intolerant (though not allergic) he eliminated coffee from his diet for 10 weeks and felt noticeably better. However, he eventually went back to coffee because once you break up with someone, or something, you tend to forget all of the bad things about them and focus on the good times. “Though my skin did not break out, when I started drinking coffee again, it instantly felt duller and was generally more agitated. My stomach felt bloated too, the same way it had been in the mornings before I started the elimination diet — even though I hadn’t reintroduced any other foods,” he explained, adding that he still hasn’t permanently kicked coffee to the curb despite its negative effects. Because, let’s face it, breaking up with coffee is hard AF.
It goes without saying that most everything should be enjoyed in moderation, and whether you’re coffee intolerant or not, drinking too much coffee isn’t good for anyone. If you’re not sure what “too much” is, Dr. Sampson said the recommended consumption for adults is generally four small cups. After that most people, save for Lorelai Gilmore, will start to feel dark and twisty.
If you drink coffee morning, noon, and night and you feel like crap, caffeine might be the real culprit. Symptoms of overindulging in caffeine are similar to those of coffee intolerance, but you’ll notice additional unpleasant side effects like chest pain, heart palpitations, mood swings, headaches, delusions, flu-like symptoms, and panic attacks, Medical News Today noted.
Because, yes, you can also be allergic to caffeine too. The journal Asia Pacific Allergy published a case study about a 27-year-old woman who went into anaphylactic shock after eating a piece of candy that contained caffeine. The woman reportedly had no history of any allergies. While being treated at the hospital, she experienced similar symptoms after drinking green tea and eating coffee jelly. After these episodes, her doctors diagnosed her with a caffeine allergy.
While caffeine allergies are rare, the study noted that they usually develop in childhood. However, this woman’s allergy emerged suddenly after she had safely consumed caffeine for years. This means that, while it’s unlikely, coffee and/or caffeine can turn against you, kind of like that BFF who’s now a frenemy or that ex you know is toxic but who you pine for anyway. If you think you may have an intolerance or an allergy to your favorite breakfast companion, consider keeping a symptom diary and talking to your doctor about potential steps you can take to feel better (such as switching to a non-caffeinated morning beverage).
Seriously, if coffee and caffeine let you know they don’t want to be your friends anymore, it’s totally OK to cry and mourn your loss. I know I would.
Mental Illness or Caffeine Allergy?
Unaware of her caffeine allergy, Ruth continued ingesting caffeinated products for the next 25 years. Her physical and mental health deteriorated, and in 1999 she was diagnosed with personality disorder and bipolar disorder, which resulted in her being committed to a locked ward.
Finally, a wise doctor diagnosed her with caffeine allergy. Her story inspired her to write Welcome to the Dance: Caffeine Allergy — A Masked Cerebral Allergy and Progressive Toxic Dementia.
Caffeine Sensitivity/Caffeine Allergy
Coffee, colas, Red Bull, chocolate, diet pills — we are a nation on legalized speed. This is of concern. All that caffeine is throwing some of us dangerously off track.
Caffeine is an addictive stimulant found in coffee, tea, colas, cocoa and chocolate. It is also in some prescribed and over-the-counter drugs. Caffeine drives the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. While some people feel comfortably alert and awake as a result, others are sensitive to this adrenaline rush and experience the flight-or-fight response: fast pulse, rapid heart beat, quick breathing and muscle tension. These physiological responses typify anxiety states. The affected person feels jittery, shaky, nervous, irritable, anxious, restless and can experience insomnia.
Other people, are more than just sensitive to caffeine. They are considered allergic, although the line is fine between the two responses. The allergic person may experience sneezing, an itchy mouth, hoarseness, difficulty breathing, hives, swollen throat/tongue/lips/face, difficulty swallowing, eczema, fainting, heart palpitations, pain in the chest or hyperventilation.
From Jitters to Psychosis
These horrific physical symptoms are accompanied by psychiatric responses. Depending on the degree of caffeine consumption, people may also experience confusion, inability to focus, dizziness, mood swings, anxiety, light sensitivity and PMS. Medical physicians or psychiatrists commonly misdiagnose them with anxiety disorder, ADHD, panic, OCD, bipolar disorder or depression and mistakenly put them on medication. In severe cases, as with Ruth Whalen, they become schizophrenic, experiencing delusions, paranoia and hallucinations, and are given even more potentially dangerous drugs. In her book, Whalen tells the story of a caffeine allergic woman who was wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized for over 40 years.
Why would caffeine cause someone to go over the edge? Psychosis occurs because adrenaline increases dopamine, our “feel good” reward neurotransmitter, and abnormally high dopaminergic transmission has been linked to psychosis and schizophrenia.
When some people are taken off caffeine, the schizophrenia disappears. Caffeine withdrawal would help explain why some Russian doctors have been able to cure schizophrenia with 30 day fasts. In some cases, caffeine allergy was likely masked as schizophrenia and the fast purged the caffeine out of the person’s system.1
Another serious condition tied to caffeine consumption is anorexia, as, to encourage loss of appetite, anorexics typically drink loads of coffee and diet sodas and refuse to give them up.2 The heavy caffeine consumption further deteriorates their body and brain, locking the anorexic further into distorted body image thinking and starvation.
Harming Yourself and Not Knowing It
Why is caffeine allergy not better known and diagnosed? To start, sometimes it can take several hours after caffeine ingestion for allergy symptoms to crop up and you don’t associate caffeine with the response.
Further, people may be unaware that they have ingested caffeine. For instance, not everyone knows that chocolate has caffeine or that, contrary to popular belief, coffee enemas are absorbed into the bloodstream and send caffeine sensitive people like me, who hasn’t had a cup of coffee in forty years, into overdrive. Also, doctors rarely diagnose caffeine allergy because few know of it. Nor do most doctors routinely inquire about coffee intake.
In the dark, people continue to use caffeinated products, wearing down their vital organs, including their brains. In 1984, in an article in Science magazine, Harvard Medical School neurologist James A. Nathanson stated that plants use caffeine as a natural insecticide to ward off dangerous pests and that these substances interfered with behavior and growth in many insects and insect larvae.
For example, after being given a caffeine compound, larvae showed signs of confusion.3 Little wonder humans, too, can experience confusion and even psychosis.
Caffeine destabilizes your nervous system in other ways. A diuretic, caffeine speeds elimination of many minerals and vitamins, such as potassium, zinc, magnesium, calcium, vitamin C and the B vitamins (especially the anti-stress vitamin B1). This can lead to deficiencies, which increase anxiety, panic, mood swings and fatigue. The problem is compounded as caffeine causes blood sugar to rise in the first hour after consumption, creating an initial buzz, and then drops to subnormal levels, causing an energy crash.
Coffee: the Worst Offender
Coffee is especially bad because it contains two other stimulants: theophylline and theobromine. A mere four cups per day can make a person nervous and jittery, while eight cups will send some into a panic attack. Caffeine injections also produce panic in healthy volunteers participating in anxiety studies. If you are already suffering anxiety and panic episodes, even a little caffeine will make you feel uncomfortable and jittery and aggravate the frequency and severity of episodes. Caffeine causes panic attack by interfering with adenosine, a brain chemical that normally has a calming effect, and by raising levels of lactate, a biochemical implicated in producing panic attacks. The effect can last for as long as six hours and interfere with sleep.
But what about caffeine junkies who can’t live without their fix and appear to tolerate caffeine well? Apparently, these folks are also getting into a tizzy. In a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 1,500 psychology students were divided into four categories based on coffee intake: abstainers, low consumers (one cup or equivalent a day), moderate (one to five cups a day) and high (five cups or more a day).4 The moderate and high consumers demonstrated higher levels of anxiety and depression than the abstainers. Further, the high consumers had higher incidence of stress-related medical problems and lower academic performance.
This tells us that even if you are not caffeine sensitive, consuming large amounts of caffeine — usually more than 250 mg per day — can be dangerous for your physical and mental health.
Give Up Caffeine
To break the caffeine habit, start by cutting out caffeine products. These include:
- All coffee (de-caffeinated coffee still contains some caffeine)
- Teas: black, green, kombucha, yerbe maté
- Soft drinks
- Energy drinks: Red Bull, Monster, Full Throttle , etc.
- Caffeinated waters
- Frozen desserts containing coffee, mocha, or cappuccino
- Chocolate, including raw cacao (which contains theophylline with a similar effect as caffeine)
- OTC drugs: NoDoz, Excedrin, Anacin, Dexatrim, Midol, etc.
Check labels. Few know, for instance, that One A Day vitamins for women contain the caffeine equivalent of one cup of coffee. Yes, even some vitamin pills are caffeinated!
If you are addicted to caffeine, you must reduce your consumption gradually to avoid caffeine withdrawal symptoms like fatigue, shakiness and headaches. In most, withdrawal takes around four to six days. If you are allergic, physical withdrawal could take 12 months or longer, and recovery symptoms can be severe, including: memory loss, confusion, tremors,
agitated states, insomnia/somnolence and nightmares.
Tips to help you kick the caffeine habit:
- Replace caffeine with healthy products.
- Drink an herbal coffee substitute like Teeccino.
- Eat carob in place of chocolate and cacao.
- Include arousing spices like ginger, cayenne and peppermint in your diet
- Start your morning with natural energizers.
- Drink something with intense flavor like pure cranberry juice, or suck on a lemon.
- Eat something that makes you chomp and bite, like an apple, as heavy work to the jaw is energizing and alerting.
- Take a cold shower.
- Do quick, intense physical activity, like jumping jacks or push-ups.
- Listen to upbeat music.
- Use herbal energizers and adaptogens to stay alert. These include: ginseng, ashwagandha (winter cherry), licorice root, reishi mushroom, rhodiola rosea and St. John’s Wort.
- Take vitamin B6.
Detoxify Your Liver
The more sensitive you are to the caffeine jitters, the less efficient your liver is at metabolizing the drug and cleansing it from your body. Help your liver do its job by eating whole, preferably raw, organic food as much as possible. Organic is important because caffeine is often used as a form of pesticide for many fruits and vegetables. Eating high nutrient, low calorie foods will also help you to give up some of your comfort food and drinks naturally by feeding your nervous system the nutrients it needs, easing the feeling of loss that you may experience.
I’m not really sure how my coffee addiction even started. As a high-energy kid who used to (literally) run around in circles, I had never even considered it.
It wasn’t until I was 19, when a friend handed me a small iced coffee after a late night out, that I even tasted the stuff. I thought it was pretty disgusting at the time…but I needed the boost on a sluggish morning.
Fast forward to 2018. I’m in my early thirties and have lived in the over-caffeinated city of New York since college. It’s hard to imagine a life without my trusty drink of choice. It’s there for me when I need a pick-me-up, or for a formal business meeting, or even an impromptu bitch sesh with coworkers. It keeps me going, no matter how little sleep I’ve had.
So imagine my surprise when I found out that I might have a coffee intolerance.
‘It all started with a food sensitivity test.’
I had always assumed I was sensitive to certain foods. As a teenager, I struggled with cystic acne that seemed exacerbated by dairy and chocolate. But over the years, and after a course of Accutane, my skin cleared up and I stopped paying such close attention to what I was eating.
But in recent months, I’d been feeling more anxiety-prone than normal, my skin was experiencing minor breakouts, and my stomach was regularly upset. (Like every time I drank coffee, I felt a powerful need to go…TMI!) I wondered if maybe coffee wasn’t agreeing with me like it used to.
So when someone at Next Health, a Los Angeles medspa, suggested I take a Vibrant Wellness food sensitivity test, I decided to try it. I was already there, trying out a different beauty service (cryotherapy!), so I figured, Why not?
“A month without coffee, and I was feeling great—maybe the healthiest I’ve ever felt in my life.”
While there are several different kinds of tests to assess food allergies, the one I took measured levels of IgG, an antibody produced by white blood cells, says Tania Dempsey, M.D. who focuses on food sensitivities, among other things, in her practice. “The thought is that if a patient has high levels of IgG to a certain food, then that must indicate that the immune system is fighting it or trying to reject it,” she says.
However, she admits IgG levels are not a perfect science—this kind of test is something that you shouldn’t just take at face value.
When the test results were emailed to me a few weeks later, I was shocked to discover that I had higher levels of IgG to a wide variety of foods like beef, chicken, lobster, and even black pepper.
‘But the biggest culprit? Coffee.’
Uh, what?? According to Megan Retterath, the nurse practitioner at Next Health, my test indicated that coffee (and other foods) triggered a reaction in my body meant to turn me off from future consumption.
“Intolerance to coffee is not that uncommon and can manifest differently in each person, while an allergy to coffee is less common but not unheard of,” adds Dempsey. “Reactions, whether they are from allergy or intolerance, can come from compounds in the coffee or to the caffeine itself.”
According to Dempsey, the most common symptoms of coffee intolerance include:
- skin rashes
- hives and acne
- abdominal pain and cramps
- mouth ulcers
In order to confirm the results of the test, Retterath suggested that I consider an elimination diet—removing all triggers from my system for a set period of time before slowly re-introducing them one at a time, to see which caused problems.
That meant nixing all the foods that were flagged by the test as triggers: beef, chicken, halibut, shrimp, lobster, carrots, watermelon, black pepper, and of course, coffee.
There was no room for cheating, either. Not even for the smallest iced coffee. “If you’re still consuming foods that you are sensitive to, such as coffee, you are still having your immune system respond and ramp up—which is the exact opposite response we want,” Retterath says.
It would be an all or nothing task.
‘I’ll admit, I had to psych myself up for a good two weeks.’
I picked a date far in the future, and set a reminder with Siri.
When that day finally rolled around, I figured I couldn’t go cold turkey on caffeine. So my morning Dunkin’ Donuts run was more of a swap—iced green or black teas became the norm, per Retterath’s recommendation. And while tea offers nowhere near the jolt that coffee supplies, it did spare me a giant, caffeine-related migraine later in the day.
After a week of no coffee, and more limited caffeine, I started to see subtle changes. My skin seemed to have cleared up a bit. My sleep—which had always been solid regardless of my caffeine intake—seemed more refreshing. I was noticeably (and yes, TMI again) less gassy and had a less upset stomach, and I also didn’t wake up bloated in the mornings. In fact, I felt really healthy overall, and like something was changing.
So I attempted to remove some of the other foods indicated on my test.
About a month in, I had mostly forgotten about coffee and its many pleasures. Sure, I got a lot of confused glances from friends, family and even strangers when I mentioned I wasn’t drinking coffee. But overall I was feeling great—maybe the healthiest I’ve ever felt in my life.
Six weeks went by, then eight, then ten. And that’s when I caved.
‘I know, I know. I started drinking coffee again.’
Did I explode? No, of course not. Did I see a visible change in my body? You betcha.
Though my skin did not break out, when I started drinking coffee again, it instantly felt duller and was generally more agitated. My stomach felt bloated too, the same way it had been in the mornings before I started the elimination diet—even though I hadn’t re-introduced any other foods.
I immediately reached out to the folks at Next Health. Could this reaction confirm that I really was sensitive to coffee?
The short answer: maybe. But part of my reaction could have been as simple as my body readjusting to coffee after a long absence, says Darshan Shah, M.D., Retterath’s colleague at Next Health.
“Because coffee is an acidic beverage and an irritant, it can sometimes cause bloating if your gastrointestinal system has not developed a tolerance to it,” he says.
Other culprits could be lactose intolerance (to creamer) or IBS, says Shah. It would take further testing to truly get to the root cause.
From my own experiment, I can say that there’s definitely something about coffee that seems to upset my stomach and skin. I definitely felt way better during those months where I wasn’t drinking the stuff. But even though I’ve significantly cut my coffee intake…old habits die hard.
My goal is to get back to a place of being coffee-free in the near distant future. Java just doesn’t seem to jive well with me.
All About Caffeine Sensitivity: Risk Factors, Symptoms, and Foods and Lifestyle Choices to Limit Its Effects
October is Caffeine Awareness Month, and if you’re thinking the perfect way to celebrate is with a giant cup of caffeinated joe, you may want to consider whether it’s time to give your daily coffee break, well, a break. That’s because while coffee is a readily available source of caffeine, it’s also a common culprit for unwanted side effects that go beyond the jitters.
Caffeine acts as a stimulant in the central nervous system, which leads to a boost in alertness and energy, research shows. No wonder so many people make a beeline for Starbucks when they’re busy or short on snooze time.
Indeed, according to survey data from the National Coffee Association reported by Reuters, Americans are drinking more coffee than ever. In the survey of about 3,000 people, 64 percent of American adults reported having a cup of coffee the prior day in 2018. That’s an increase from 62 percent in 2017 — and those results don’t account for the caffeine we get from other sources.
RELATED: How to Tell if You’re Addicted to Caffeine
Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance in several plants such as coffee beans, tea leaves, cacao beans, and kola nuts, which are used to make cola. It’s also found in a few foods that may surprise you, including certain flavors of ice cream and pudding; breakfast cereals; hot chocolate; and even decaf coffee and tea, albeit in small amounts.
What is it that gives caffeine its seemingly magical powers to keep us going even on the longest days?
Because of the size of its molecules, caffeine can easily pass through the membranes that line the digestive tract. This means that from your very first sip (or bite), the caffeine in your food or drink starts making its way to your bloodstream. Caffeine energizes the body by mimicking a compound called adenosine, which makes you feel awake, according to the National Sleep Foundation. This process strengthens the feel-good hormone dopamine and triggers the release of adrenaline, giving you a jolt of energy. A landmark 1980 study found that in healthy people, the average half-life — meaning how long something remains active in your body — is 5.7 hours from when it is ingested. Because this is how long caffeine will remain active in your body, it’s also how long you can expect to feel its effects.
RELATED: 3 Ways Coffee Can Affect Your Digestive System and What to Drink Instead
But have you ever noticed that some people can fall fast asleep immediately after downing a double shot of espresso, while others can’t have a single cup of coffee without feeling strung out? Turns out, there are varying levels of sensitivity to caffeine.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most people can easily tolerate a daily dose of up to 400 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, which is the amount in about 20 ounces of coffee, without any negative side effects. But about 10 percent of the population is considered hyposensitive to caffeine, according to Caffeine Informer, meaning that they can tolerate higher-than-normal amounts of caffeine without a problem. People with caffeine hypersensitivity cannot tolerate even the smallest amounts of caffeine without negative side effects.
Read on to learn more about caffeine sensitivity and what to do if you’re affected.
What Is Caffeine Sensitivity and What Are the Symptoms?
When someone has caffeine sensitivity, he or she feels the effects of caffeine much more strongly than those without a sensitivity. The person may feel as though he or she has had several shots of espresso after just a few sips of coffee. “Insomnia when consuming caffeine can also be an indication the caffeine has impacted your sleep cycle. If you experience a racing heartbeat or palpitations, consult your physician to determine what, if any, amount of caffeine is safe for you to consume,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, the author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet and a private-practice dietitian in Franklin, New Jersey.
Here are some additional symptoms of caffeine sensitivity.
- Racing heartbeat
If any of this sounds like you and you consume caffeine regularly, try tracking your intake and be sure to read food labels to spot hidden sources of caffeine. It’s also a good idea to voice your concerns to a doctor in case there may be another cause of your symptoms.
RELATED: 10 Things You Need to Know About Caffeine
What Causes Caffeine Sensitivity Exactly?
There are a number of factors that can contribute to caffeine sensitivity, and unfortunately, you can’t control all of them.
Here are some of the most common risk factors for caffeine sensitivity.
You’re a Man
Women naturally metabolize caffeine more quickly than men, suggests research in Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry. Because caffeine takes longer for men to process, it stays in their system and can produce side effects for longer. As a result, simply being a man places you at an increased likelihood of being sensitive to caffeine.
… or a Woman on the Pill
If you’re a woman taking a birth control pill, the java playing field levels out somewhat. Caffeine competes for the same enzymes in the liver that also process estrogen. When synthetic hormones are introduced in the body, as is the case with oral contraceptives, the body processes caffeine at about one-third the speed it would otherwise, according to a study in the Journal of Nutrition.
Your Medication Is to Blame
Some types of medication may interact with caffeine, making its side effects more pronounced. For example, the Mayo Clinic points out that medications and supplements such as Theo-24 (theophylline), which is used to treat respiratory issues, and echinacea, an herbal supplement, can both increase the effects of caffeine in the body. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see whether any of your meds may be affecting how your body processes caffeine.
It’s in Your Genes
Believe it or not, there’s a genetic component to how the body processes caffeine, meaning that your genetic makeup alone can make you hypersensitive to caffeine. A study in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics points to a variation in the ADORA2A gene, which correlates with variations in caffeine’s effect on sleep from one person to another. Another study, with 120,000 participants, published in the July 2014 edition of PLoS One, identified six genes that may affect the way people metabolize and become hooked on caffeine.
You Don’t Usually Have Caffeine
Caffeine has a stronger effect on those who don’t consume it regularly compared with those who have built up a tolerance. Think of it this way: The more “practice” your body has at metabolizing caffeine, the more efficient it seems to be at it. According to the Mayo Clinic, simply not consuming caffeine regularly can lead to a higher sensitivity to it.
You Have Baseline Anxiety
If you already have anxiety or high levels of stress, caffeine can worsen the symptoms you’re already experiencing. For example, caffeine can promote panic attacks, loss of sleep, and worsened anxiety symptoms in those with anxiety disorders, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
RELATED: 7 Causes of Anxiety
Energizing Drinks That Don’t Contain Caffeine
“If people are sensitive to caffeine I recommend they avoid caffeinated beverages completely,” recommends Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDE, a health, food, and fitness coach in private practice in Prescott, Arizona, and a medical reviewer for Everyday Health. If you’re looking to cut back on or completely eliminate caffeine in your life, it’s only natural to want to replace that habit with another. The undeniable comfort a warm beverage provides is hard to give up. Luckily, there’s no need to! Keep in mind that quitting caffeine cold turkey is not usually recommended because doing so can cause withdrawal side effects. “Reduce caffeine gradually to avoid fatigue and side effects such as headaches,” Palinski-Wade says. “Aim to cut your caffeine intake by 25 percent every two to three days until you can keep it below 100 mg or less per day.”
Reducing your caffeine intake? Try these alternatives.
Decaf Coffee and Decaf or Caffeine-Free Tea
“Coffee lovers may find that using decaffeinated coffee works well for them, but some of my coffee-loving clients tell me that they have greater success reducing caffeine when they replace coffee with a naturally caffeine-free herbal tea such as chamomile tea,” says Grieger. Some teas are naturally caffeine-free, while others have the caffeine removed — both are great choices! Keep in mind that even decaf coffee and decaf tea do contain a small amount of caffeine, so they may not be the perfect choice for those looking to go completely caffeine-free.
With its natural carbonation and a significantly lower amount of caffeine than tea, kombucha can make a healthful and energy-boosting choice. It’s a great lower-sugar alternative to soda.
Wheatgrass is a source of essential vitamins and minerals and, while not the tastiest choice, a shot of it may help to give you a little extra burst of energy without any caffeine.
If you’re looking for a warm beverage that mimics the earthy flavor of coffee and may increase your energy as well, this mushroom elixir mix may be just the thing.
Chicory Herbal Coffee Substitute
Made from natural ingredients, such as chicory and herbs (there’s even a variety that contains dandelion), an herbal coffee substitute such as that made by Teeccino, may be the perfect warm and flavorful replacement for your daily coffee.
Golden Milk Latte Mix
With turmeric, dates, cardamom, and vanilla as its main ingredients, Golden Milk herbal mix can be easily made into a latte to provide the warmth you crave along with a good dose of calcium from the milk. Plus, since the mixture itself is dairy-free, you can mix it with your favorite nondairy milk and make it completely dairy- and caffeine-free.
RELATED: The Absolute Best Teas to Sip for Better Health
Other Proven Strategies to Help Boost Your Energy Naturally
Foods and beverages aren’t the only source of improved energy levels. There are a host of lifestyle habits you can adopt that may help with energy and, of course, are caffeine-free.
While it may seem counterintuitive to expend energy to gain more, the truth is that even a small amount of low-to-moderate aerobic exercise has been shown to do just that, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). While the recommended amount of exercise for adults is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week, according to the 2015 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, ACE notes you may see improvements in sleep with as little as 20 minutes of exercise three times weekly.
Get Enough Sleep
If there’s one thing that can send you running to Starbucks, it’s not getting enough sleep. For optimal health, the National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Practice Yoga and Mindful Meditation
Slowing down and breathing deep won’t only make you feel calmer — this approach can also increase energy. According to a study published August 2017 in Mindfulness, both yoga and mindfulness meditation can improve mood, focus, and energy levels.
Cut Back on Screen Time
Living with your phone in your hand can drain your energy. According to a study published in January 2015 in PNAS, use of light-emitting screens before bed (think cell phones, tablets, e-readers, and television) increased the time it took to fall asleep, decreased the quality of sleep, and decreased the feeling of alertness the following morning. Before bed, skip the Netflix binge or Instagram scrolling in lieu of reading a book or doing some deep-breathing exercises for a better night’s sleep.
Be a Superhero
As it turns out, Superman was on to something! Standing in a high-power stance such as with your head held high, feet apart, and hands on your hips, much like Superman, for just one minute can naturally increase energy levels according to a September 2010 study in Psychological Science.
Get Some Sunshine
Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” for a reason. When the sun’s rays hit our skin, it tells our bodies to make more vitamin D. And this process can do wonders for our energy and mood. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to muscle fatigue, notes a study published in October 2013 in Endocrine Abstracts. In addition, vitamin D levels in the body can have a direct effect on depression and other mood disorders, as described in a paper published in June 2011 in Issues in Mental Health Nursing
To get your fix, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends standing in the sun for 5 to 30 minutes a couple of days per week. Direct sunlight is key — your body won’t synthesize vitamin D if you’re being exposed through a screen or window, for instance. And know that living in certain latitudes and having darker skin may also affect how much vitamin D you’ll make.
Have a Healthy Breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! A protein-rich breakfast that also contains whole grains is a perfect balance of energy-boosting nutrition. For example, eggs with whole-grain toast, yogurt with whole-grain cereal, or steel-cut oatmeal with nuts would all be nutritionally balanced and filling choices. Whole-grain carbohydrates and protein both slow digestion, leading to more consistently high energy hours after the meal, as described by the Harvard Medical School.
Drink More Water
A February 2012 study in the Journal of Nutrition and a June 2011 study in British Journal of Nutrition both found that even mild dehydration by just 1.5 percent of the body’s normal fluid amount can significantly affect energy, mood, and brainpower because it decreases the volume of blood in the body and, therefore, the amount of blood reaching the brain.
“I encourage all of my clients to make plain, unflavored water their primary beverage,” says Grieger.
Get Enough Vitamin B12
Most Americans get plenty of vitamin B12 to meet their needs because it is found in high amounts in foods such as dairy products, fortified breakfast cereals, trout, salmon, tuna, clams, and beef. But vegetarians and vegans, those with digestive issues, and those over age 50 are more likely to become deficient in vitamin B12. Under normal circumstances, vitamin B12 helps your body break down food into glucose which the brain uses for energy. As a result, vitamin B12 deficiency can zap energy levels, according to the NIH, getting it from a supplement can increase energy and endurance.
If you think you’re sensitive to caffeine, now is a great time to move toward a less caffeine-dependent life. Determine which foods, beverages, and lifestyle habits are the best fit to help you increase your energy levels naturally and start cutting back on caffeine today. With a few simple changes, you’ll have so much energy that you won’t even miss that morning cup of joe.
We present the case of a 24-year-old woman who suffered from 2006 to 2011 from recurrent urticaria (i.e., six episodes), occurring while she was working as an employee in the cheese-and-gastronomy section of a supermarket. From 2009, the reactions grew in frequency and intensity, presenting with wheals localized on the lips, neck, groin, hands and foots, itching of the eyelids, ears, and tongue. During this time, the patient received a diagnosis of occupational allergy. Consequently, she moved to another section of the supermarket, where she has no more in contact with foods. In 2010, she developed three urticarial reactions at the workplace – in one case, edema of the glottis, diarrhea and loss of consciousness occurred, requiring emergency resuscitation. On this occasion, the patient presented with leukocytosis (14.4 × 103/uL) and increased neutrophils (86%). First aid included corticosteroids, adrenaline, and intravenous antihistamines administration. Later, she was referred to our department.
A thorough anamnesis revealed that, before symptoms development in the workplace, she had drunk a cup of coffee (nearly 80 ml). Prior to the three reactions that occurred at the workplace, on two occasions she recollected drinking a cup of brewed coffee; before the third episode, she had drunk a cup of brewed cappuccino (nearly 100 ml) during breakfast.
We analyzed the composition of the instant coffee that the patient used to take from the automatic dispenser at the workplace. The composition was the following: Coffee component (90%), artificial sweeteners (aspartame) (5%), flavoring component (vanilla, amaretto) (3%), aroma enhancers (spices) (2%). There was neither personal nor familiar history of atopy or allergies. Total IgE paper radio immunosorbent test (PRIST) was normal (28 kU/L) and specific IgE radio allergosorbent tests (RAST) for coffee, caffeine, cow-milk, lactoglobulin and caseine-specific IgE (CAP system) were negative. Tests for C1q inhibitor, C4, circulating immunocomplexes, antinuclear antibodies and extractable nuclear antigen autoantibodies, blood protein, hemochrome, C-reactive protein and erythrocyte sedimentation rate were normal. Both prick test (PT) with common allergens and caffeine (10 mg/mL) and prick-by-prick tests (PBP) with espresso coffee, decaffeinate coffee and cappuccino, tested negative. Five control subjects underwent PT with caffeine and PBP with coffee, with negative results. Open scratch test (OST) was performed with the molds of the cheese and of the ham, starch salami and baked bread that the patient used to handle during her work: They all tested negative. A double blind placebo-controlled oral challenge test (OCT) with 50 mg of caffeine elicited, after 1-2 min, urticarial lesions on the lips, neck, trunk, hands and feet, followed by dyspnea and voice change . The patient was treated with intravenous infusions of epinephrine, corticosteroids and antihistamines (ranitidine and chlorpheniramine) and monitored (electrocardiography, blood pressure and diuresis) for 48 h. Symptoms resolved within 2 hours. OCT performed after 4 weeks with 50 mg of theophylline was positive after 9 hours, with appearance of wheals on the neck and upper trunk.
Urticarial lesions on the abdomen (a) and the back (b) of the patient, developed few minutes after caffeine oral challenge test
We concluded that caffeine was the cause of our patient’s symptoms, and we advised her to follow a caffeine-free diet, avoiding all caffeine-containing beverages and drugs or methylxanthine-containing drugs (e.g., theophylline, aminophylline, paraxanthine, theobromine), in order to prevent possible cross-reactions. Periodic follow-ups were conducted at 1, 3 and 6 months, and then once a year from 2010 to 2012: The patient never experienced urticaria or angioedema again.
Attention, Coffee Drinkers! Did you know that caffeine disrupts your hormones for a full 24 hours?
That’s not all. Caffeine stays in women’s bodies longer than men’s and it robs them of essential hormone-balancing nutrients and minerals. Studies link coffee consumption with infertility and poor gut health, which interferes with your body’s ability to detox excess (toxic) hormones.
Then there’s the link between caffeine consumption and cysts in your breasts and ovaries.
In other words, coffee is dangerous stuff if you suffer from hormone imbalances… and it can be dangerous stuff in general. That’s because many people can’t tolerate caffeine and don’t know it.
So that brings up two key questions: how can you tell if you have a hormone imbalance? And how can you tell if you have a caffeine intolerance?
Let’s start with signs of a hormone imbalance…
How to Tell if You Have a Hormone Imbalance
How do you know if your hormones could use a little TLC…and that caffeine might be something you should eliminate from your daily routine?
Here are some signs and symptoms of a hormone imbalance:
Severe period cramps
You have been steadily gaining weight for a few months or years
You can’t seem to lose weight even with a healthy diet and increased exercise
Breast or ovarian cysts
Low sex drive
I encourage any woman who is experiencing one or more of these symptoms to ditch caffeine for good, especially if you don’t tolerate caffeine well…and research shows that only 10 percent of the population produces enough of the specific enzyme that helps breakdown and eliminate caffeine. That means 9 out of 10 of you reading this right now are caffeine intolerant, whether you suffer from hormone imbalances of not!
How to Tell If You Have a Caffeine Intolerance
As I just mentioned, caffeine intolerance is surprisingly common, but most of us think of ourselves as immune. Three cups of coffee each morning might affect my coworkers or my sister, but not me! I explain the genetics of caffeine intolerance—and why hormone imbalances and caffeine intolerance often go hand in hand—below, but first let’s take a look at the signs and symptoms of caffeine intolerance.
Almost everyone who drinks coffee or other caffeinated beverages will recognize that familiar pick-me-up feeling that caffeine brings. But if you experience any of the symptoms on the following list—symptoms that are often attributed to other conditions or physiological responses—you might be caffeine intolerant. Symptoms like:
Fatigue (yes, fatigue!)
High blood pressure
Poorly balanced blood sugar
Feeling wired but tired
In many cases, these symptoms are chalked up to other diagnoses, like adrenal fatigue or anxiety disorders, but the real culprit might be coffee OR the causes of your symptoms are multifactorial and coffee consumption is one of the factors.
Why Caffeine is SO BAD for Hormones
Here’s why caffeine is so problematic for women with hormone imbalances:
Caffeine Problem #1: Caffeine may increase the risk of benign breast disease (BBD), and specifically a form of BBD called atypical hyperplasia, which is a marker of increased breast cancer risk. This is scary stuff! One in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime, so it is wise to take every step you can to protect yourself. Giving up caffeine is easy (and free!), and comes with a host of other benefits, like reducing anxiety and supporting better blood sugar balance.
The good news? The same study suggests that taking multivitamin supplements can have a protective effect against developing BBD.
Caffeine Problem #2: Caffeine consumption is linked to infertility. A woman is more likely to miscarry if she and/or her partner drink more than two caffeinated beverages per day in the weeks leading up to conception, according to research from the National Institutes of Health and Ohio State University. Women who consumed two caffeinated beverages every day during the first seven weeks of pregnancy were also more likely experience pregnancy loss.
Studies suggest that caffeine consumption may delay pregnancy among fertile women.
Male partners, beware! Some research suggests that caffeine consumption among wannabe dads may reduce the chances of conception. Men who drank two or more cups of coffee per day had only a one in five chance of conception through IVF.
Caffeine increases cortisol levels, and high cortisol sends signals to the body that it is not an ideal time for conception.
Finally, caffeine depletes the body of vital nutrients needed for ovulation and healthy fertility (including B vitamins and folate). If you hope to become a mom someday, you need optimal levels of five key micronutrients, which you will want to take in supplement form…and you won’t want to deplete them at the same time by drinking coffee! Don’t do the good work of getting your essential micronutrients and then shoot yourself in the foot by drinking caffeine.
Caffeine Problem #3: If you struggle with hormone imbalances (and if you’re reading this right now, you or someone you love probably does), it can be sign that your body has a hard time metabolizing caffeine. Hormone imbalances might be a sign that you don’t process caffeine efficiently. That’s because the same process in the liver that helps metabolize caffeine is also involved in the metabolism of estrogen.
Caffeine is broken down by the liver using the enzyme CYP1A2. Your ability to produce this enzyme is regulated by the CYP1A2 gene. If you have a mutation in this gene, it will affect how your liver breaks down and eliminates excess caffeine. You will also have a harder time processing and eliminating excess estrogen.
Based on your gene variation, you’ll either make a lot of this enzyme (and be a successful caffeine swiller) or a little (and have a tough time with caffeine). Turns out only 10% of the population make a lot of this enzyme. That’s just one in 10 of us! So if you fall into the majority — if you’re one of the 9 out of 10 women who don’t process caffeine efficiently — you also, very likely, have a buildup of estrogen in your body. And estrogen dominance is what gives rise to a lot of the unpleasant period problems you experience.
This is why getting off caffeine is such an important part of the FLO Protocol. Estrogen dominance gives rise to so many of the symptoms of hormone imbalance and you don’t want anything blocking your ability to detox estrogen.
Ready to Ditch Caffeine? Here’s How
Ready to say no to the hormone-damaging effects of caffeine, but afraid of withdrawal? Never fear! You can quit caffeine without symptoms—and without losing energy. If you follow these steps, you will feel great as you wean off caffeine and you’ll be much less likely to relapse.
- Start to wean off caffeine during the ovulation phase of your 28-day menstrual cycle, when you naturally have the most energy.
- Nourish your adrenals with adaptogens that help combat stress, like rhodiola, ashwagandha, and maca root powder.
- Use magnesium to replenish your mineral reserves, balance your mood, and combat headaches.
- Supplement with B vitamins. Make sure you’re getting B5 and B12 as part of your B complex.
- Rehydrate with coconut water that is rich in electrolytes.
- Do gentle exercise, like walks and yoga, but avoid heavy cardio in the week or two after stopping coffee.
- Eat a big, healthy breakfast every morning, which will give you fuel for the whole day.
Always remember, that once you have the right information about how your body really works, you can start making health choices that finally start to work for you! You can do this – the science of your body is on your side!
BALANCE by FLO Living Hormone Supplement Kit
Because you’ve asked for hormone-friendly supplement recommendations, I created a solution that I am so thrilled to be able to offer to you on your hormonal balancing journey:
Balance by FLO Living Supplements are a complete package that work together to keep your hormone levels healthy. They include a 2 month(2 cycle) supply of the following formulations so you’re never caught short in any phase of your cycle.
When you take these 5 supplements daily, you’ll be giving your body excellent micronutrients to support healthier hormone levels. Which means that you’ll start to see your worst period symptoms get better… and even disappear after a while.