Caffeine is a huge part of modern-day culture, with coffee shops on every street corner. It’s also a big part of the social environment today, but not everyone can tolerate it well. Caffeine sensitivity occurs when a person is super sensitive to caffeine and the impacts it has on the nervous system. Their body can’t metabolise it effectively, and so they feel the effects of caffeine for hours on end. Even just a few sips of coffee or cola can send them into a jittery spiral, with a racing heart and sweaty palms, insomnia and anxiety to boot.
This article will take a look at what caffeine is, what the food sources of it are, the different levels of sensitivity, the symptoms of caffeine intolerance, why it occurs, how to diagnose it, and what you can do about it.
Let’s begin with a look at what caffeine is.
Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound found in plants, specifically in coffee beans, cacao beans, tea leaves and kola nuts. Other lesser-known sources include yerba mate and guarana. Some medications also have caffeine added to them, including popular cold and flu tablets and some analgesics. Make sure to check with a pharmacist about any added caffeine.
Caffeine naturally stimulates the central nervous system and gives rise to a heightened state of alertness and potential energy. However, it can cause a depletion in energy if too much is consumed, as it drains the adrenal system and heightens cortisol in the body.
Caffeine has a very small molecular size, and this means that it can easily pass through the wall of the digestive tract and straight into the bloodstream. This gives it the ability to produce quick effects on the central nervous system, including increased energy and alertness, and also the symptoms of caffeine intolerance that we delve into a bit further along in this article.
This varies greatly depending on the plant used and the size of the drink etc. Here are some averaged guidelines:
Many people today have their daily caffeine fix through coffee or soft drink. The average daily intake is between 200 to 400 mg caffeine. Or 2 to 5 cups of coffee a day.
The recommended intake for people who are sensitive to caffeine is zero, or a minimal amount up to 30mg. Like all sensitivities and intolerances, the amount you can tolerate is individualised to you. Some people really will do best on no caffeine at all, and it’s important to note that even decaf coffee and tea still has a small amount of caffeine in it.
There are three different levels of caffeine intolerance, and they are as follows:
Normal/Average – this is where most of the population sits. They can enjoy a ‘normal’ caffeine intake with no ill effects. This is between 200 to 400mg caffeine daily, or 2 to 5 cups of coffee. They don’t experience insomnia or jitters from it, as long as it’s not drunk too close to bedtime.
Hyposensitive – caffeine doesn’t seem to affect these people AT ALL. In fact, they can have a coffee right before bed and have no ill effects from it. This doesn’t mean that they can drink as much as they like though, as it will still be hard on the liver and adrenal system, especially at high doses.
Hypersensitive – these are the people that this article is for. They react to even tiny amounts of caffeine, sometimes even 30mg, or a couple of sips of coffee. If this is you, don’t expect to sleep on days that you have caffeine.
This is not a caffeine allergy, which can occur as well. People with caffeine allergy will experience allergy symptoms such as hives, swelling of the tongue etc, and can have life-threatening anaphylactic reactions.
This is a list of factors that may increase your risk of developing caffeine intolerance. Everyone is different, and having one or more of these factors doesn’t guarantee you will have an issue with caffeine.
There is two primary Mechanism of action for caffeine clearance in the body. When these don’t work effectively, caffeine intolerance occurs.
The first one has to do with whether or not a person’s liver metabolises caffeine fast, or slow. If you are a slow metaboliser of caffeine, you will have the effects of it in your system for hours, and most likely suffer from insomnia and other ill side effects of drinking caffeine.
The second reason is that there exists a strong genetic link in those with caffeine sensitivity, and it’s got to do with the CYP1A2 gene and enzyme. The liver metabolises caffeine using this enzyme, that is linked to the gene of the same name (CYP1A2). If there is even a small change in the DNA of this gene, a person’s ability to metabolise caffeine efficiently can be dramatically affected.
Interestingly the CYP1A2 enzyme is also used to metabolise estrogen in the liver. If you are caffeine intolerant, it may also be linked to hormonal imbalance, as your body may have a problem clearing both caffeine and estrogen. This also means that if you are a woman taking the pill or hormone replacement, you may also have difficulties metabolising caffeine.
Gender plays a part too. Men naturally don’t metabolise caffeine as quickly as women, which puts them at a higher likelihood of caffeine intolerance.
It is proposed that overall, people with hypersensitivity to caffeine have a slow metabolism of it via the liver, and a high amount of it binds to the central nervous system. In these people even very small amounts of caffeine can cause big problems.
Our food intolerance bio-resonance hair test can pick up whether or not you have a sensitivity to caffeine. It is remarkably non-invasive and involves only a few strands of hair being cut from your body and sent to our lab. It tests not only caffeine, but also 700 other food and non-food items. You can find out more about our test HERE.
Allergy testing can be used if there is a suspected allergy to caffeine. This can be a blood test or a skin prick test. However, this will not show up any intolerances.
Using a food diary and noting down any symptoms will show up if you are having a potential reaction to caffeine. It is not conclusive but can be a useful tool on your journey.
Firstly, learn your tolerance level. Are you a person who can manage a half-strength latte in the morning and still be okay without any ill effects? Or do you need to avoid caffeine altogether so you can sleep again? You can try decaf and see it that is manageable for you also.
Once you know what your personal tolerance level is, stick to it!
If you cannot tolerate any caffeine, you need to be aware of all of the food sources of it as listed above and make sure that you avoid those as well.
If you’ve found that you can’t tolerate caffeine, or you are suspecting that you have a sensitivity to it, reduce your intake of it slowly. If you go cold turkey, you may give yourself shocking headaches and withdrawal symptoms. Cutting back a cup of coffee every couple of days until you are down to 1 or decaf.
You can then move onto beverages that don’t contain any caffeine if you still want the comfort of a warm drink. These include many herbal teas such as chamomile and rooibos, chicory coffee replacement, mushroom elixirs that are also used as coffee replacements, turmeric lattes and more. Find what tastes delicious to you, and enjoy the benefits of being caffeine and symptom-free.
Caffeine intolerance is a real condition, and it wreaks havoc with coffee addiction. Feeling anxious and fidgety, panicked, with a racing heart, insomniac mind and sweaty hands are all signs that you are among the caffeine-sensitive crowd. Other less common symptoms include migraines or headaches, high blood pressure and hormonal imbalances. If you are among the 10% of the population who are hypersensitive to caffeine, giving up your cup of joe will give you back control of your health and wellbeing.
Your genes and the way your liver processes caffeine are the two most significant risk factors for developing this sensitivity, and we discuss others in the article. If you do resonate with the symptoms listed above when you consume caffeine, you can get a diagnosis of intolerance through the Bio-resonance hair test that we offer. With the results in hand, you can take the next necessary steps to achieve full health.
We’ve given you a list of foods that caffeine is found in, and some recommendations for caffeine-free beverages to get you started on the journey. You are never alone on the path to wellness.