Intolerance Lab

Caffeine Sensitivity

Caffeine Sensitivity

These days there is a coffee shop on every street corner, and in between! Café culture is an integral part of the modern social scene, but unfortunately not everyone takes well to caffeine. Some people have one or two sips of a cup of coffee and immediately feel the jitters and won’t sleep that night, and this is referred to as Caffeine sensitivity.

We are going to take a deep dive into how caffeine affects the body, what foods its found in and in what amounts, how to know if you have caffeine sensitivity and how to get a proper diagnosis, and then what you can do to manage it.

Let’s start with learning about where caffeine is found naturally.

All about caffeine

Caffeine occurs naturally, and we usually associate it with coffee beans and tea leaves. It’s also found in cacao beans which make chocolate, kola nuts, guarana and a plant called yerba mate. It’s also added to some medications, especially those used to treat cold and flu or pain. Make sure you check at your local chemist when buying any over the counter medications, and even some prescription medications.

It works in the body by naturally stimulating the nervous system. This causes more alertness but also increases cortisol in the body. This can give rise to the symptoms of anxiety, fast heartbeats, and sweating palms.

Due to its tiny molecular size, it passes very quickly through the digestive wall and into the bloodstream. This is why you can feel the effects of it reasonably soon after consumption. If you’re sensitive to it, unpleasant symptoms may come on quickly. 

Food sources of caffeine

This list includes foods that naturally have caffeine and those that it is most commonly added to.

  • Naturally caffeinated beverages – coffee and tea. This includes black, green and white tea, but they all have varying levels of caffeine.
  • Decaf tea and coffee also have trace amounts of caffeine
  • Iced tea
  • Coffee and chocolate flavoured milks
  • Chocolate bars. Dark chocolate has more caffeine than milk chocolate.
  • Hot chocolate drinks
  • All kind of chocolate desserts and ice creams, and also coffee flavoured ice creams and desserts
  • Modern energy drinks, these can be very high in caffeine
  • Some soft drinks, particularly cola, also have a lot of caffeine. Make sure to check the labels
  • Medications, make sure to check with your pharmacist

How much caffeine is in my drink/food?

This is an averaged guide because the amount will vary greatly depending on what type of coffee or tea variety is used etc.:

30ml espresso shot – 60mg

125ml filtered coffee – 85mg

Instant coffee – 65mg

Black tea – 32mg

Decaffeinated coffee – 4mg

Caffeinated soft drink 330ml – 40mg

330ml energy drink – 80mg

30gm dark chocolate – 60mg

30gm milk chocolate – 6mg

150ml hot chocolate drink – 4mg

What is the normal daily intake of caffeine?

Soy latte, cappuccino, flat white. No matter how you like your coffee, most of us drink it on the daily—several times. The average daily caffeine consumption is between 200-400mg, and this equates to 2 – 5 cups of joe.

While this may be normal, it’s recommended that you move to no caffeine, or decaf at the very least if you are very sensitive to it.

The three levels of caffeine sensitivity

There are three different levels of caffeine sensitivity, and they are as follows:

Normal – Roughly 90% of people fit into this group. Having between 200 – 400mg daily produces no side effects for these people. Insomnia is rare if coffee is drunk before lunchtime.

Heightened  – People in this group react to tiny amounts of caffeine, even a few sips of coffee or cola. They can experience anxiety, jitters, racing heart and insomnia on days when caffeine is consumed.

Low – This group can have a coffee right before bed and go to sleep fine! Caffeine doesn’t appear to have much of an effect on them at all.

Main caffeine sensitivity symptoms:

  • Anxiety and racing thoughts
  • Having the jitters
  • Sweaty palms, or sweaty in general
  • Heart is beating fast
  • High blood pressure can also be an issue
  • Feeling fatigued, but also wired and tired
  • Insomnia
  • Headaches and migraines
  • PMS and hormonal imbalances can sometimes occur too

Caffeine allergy is different and will present with high histamine symptoms such as swelling, rash and hives, and sometimes anaphylaxis.

These are the most common risk factors.

Each person is individual, and having some of these factors does guarantee you will have a caffeine sensitivity. 

  • Genetics – a family history of caffeine sensitivity
  • Being male – men do not metabolise caffeine as efficiently as women
  • Take the oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement
  • Existing anxiety
  • Liver function issues
  • Medications, especially one called theophylline.
  • The herbal medicine echinacea can also increase the risk of transient caffeine sensitivity.

Mechanism of action for caffeine sensitivity.

There are two main reasons as to why this sensitivity occurs.

The first one is based on genetics. Caffeine is metabolised in the liver using an enzyme called CYP1A2. There is a gene also called CYP1A2, and when there is even a slight deviation in the DNA of this gene, it can dramatically affect the way someone will metabolise caffeine.

The second main reason is based on the way caffeine is metabolised through the liver. You can be either a fast or slow metaboliser of caffeine. People who metabolise it slowly can’t take as much and are more prone to caffeine sensitivity.

It’s been shown that gender may have an important role, as men do not metabolise caffeine as efficiently as women.

However, if a woman is on the oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement, it can cause caffeine sensitivity. This is because the same enzyme that metabolises caffeine in the liver also metabolises estrogen. Hormonal imbalances can, therefore also occur in the caffeine sensitive.

How to diagnose a caffeine sensitivity.

Caffeine sensitivity can be picked up through the simple method of a food diary. Simply record your daily food and beverage intake, alongside any symptoms you have. This will show you any patterns and if they coincide with caffeine intake. This isn’t a conclusive method, but it is useful.

The second method is bio-resonance hair testing for food intolerances. This is a more conclusive method by far, and is also non-invasive and insightful. Using our hair intolerance test, you can find out if you are intolerant to caffeine, and also be tested against 700+ other items at the same time.

If you think you may have a caffeine allergy, you can also speak to your doctor about having a test for that. It is via a blood or skin prick method that will show allergies, but not intolerances.

Management of caffeine sensitivity.

The best thing to do if you are highly sensitive to caffeine is to avoid it. However, if you love your coffee and can’t fathom giving it up, then it’s best to figure out what your tolerance level is.

You may be able to have decaffeinated coffee and tea, or even a half-strength coffee. The way to find out is to simply try and then record any response that you have. Stick to your tolerance levels, and you will significantly lessen any sensitivity symptoms.

IF you find that caffeine is a no go for you, just make sure you are aware of where it is found, and also check any labels on foods that you buy and medications.

If you really love warm drinks, there are plenty of caffeine-free choices. Rooibos tea, caffeine-free chai, turmeric lattes, herbal teas, chicory root and dandelion root coffee, mushroom elixirs and more. Experiment and find which ones you love. You’ll find not only a new drink to enjoy but also a new lease on life without any of the caffeine sensitivity symptoms you use to have. 

Summary

Caffeine is a huge part of modern culture, and as a naturally occurring substance it packs a punch on the human body. For many people, it’s their drug of choice to give them energy and mental alertness and to get them through the day. Sadly though, there are those of us who just can’t tolerate caffeine’s effects on our system. After just a sip or two, we can be left with the jitters and anxiety, a racing heart, sweaty palms and insomnia for days. This is due to the way in which it naturally stimulates the nervous system, and also due to the way the body metabolises it.

For people with a heightened sensitivity to caffeine as described above, genetics and enzymatic liver pathways play a big part in the condition. Further risk factors are outlined in the article in full. Headaches, migraines and blood pressure issues can also occur as a result of caffeine sensitivity. These issues can significantly lower your quality of life, but there is a solution for you. Bio-resonance hair testing for food intolerances will give you the results you need so that you can find out for sure if you have a caffeine intolerance. Once you know, it’s a simple case of removing caffeine from your diet and finding substitutes you love. In the article, we’ve outlined the foods in which caffeine is found, and some yummy alternatives to make it easier for you.

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