The Science of Caffeine

Caffeine is the most commonly used drug in the world. While most of us associate it with coffee, it is also found in numerous other drinks, such as tea, soda, and “energy drinks”; foods, such as chocolate; and some medicines, such as OTC pain relievers. Even “decaffeinated” drinks contain trace amounts of caffeine. Millions of people consume caffeine one or more times a day to increase mental focus and improve energy. For many of these people, however, caffeine also brings on a host of unpleasant side effects, most commonly, anxiety or irritability. And while there is a fine line between what could be labeled “caffeine sensitivity” and “caffeine allergy”, in either case we are dealing with the body’s inability to correctly process the caffeine molecule.

Science bears this out. Some people actually lack the genetic capability to process caffeine. This means the caffeine builds up in their body instead of breaking down.

Health professionals have been slow to characterize problematic caffeine use or acknowledge that some cases may call for treatment. However, some in the scientific community are beginning to wake up and-excuse the pun–smell the coffee. In fact, last spring, the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized “Caffeine Use Disorder”, a health concern in need of additional research in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders.

“The negative effects of caffeine are often not recognized as such because it is a socially acceptable and widely consumed drug that is well integrated into our culture.”

These negative effects include:

• Skin problems such as hives, eczema, rashes, acne, severe itching

• Headaches or migraines

• Anxiety, feeling panicky or “jitters”

• Inability to focus or concentrate

• Tongue, glands, or throat swelling

• Heart racing/ palpitations

• Angry, irritable, bad mood

• Fatigue

• Dizziness

• Chest Pain

• Muscle pain

• Shortness of breath/ tightness of chest

• Cold sweats

• Eyes swollen shut

• Difficulties sleeping

The severity of these symptoms varies depending on the individual. Some people are highly sensitive to even small amounts of caffeine, while others can ingest large quantities without feeling any ill effects.

If a person suspects that they are allergic to caffeine, he or she should cut it out of their diet. After all, this is the most practical way to assess whether caffeine is indeed the culprit. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

Many people are dependent on caffeine, to the point that they suffer withdrawal symptoms when they do not get their “fix”. Some find themselves unable to reduce caffeine consumption, even if they have another condition that may be negatively impacted by it, such as a pregnancy, a heart condition, or a bleeding disorder.

Based on current research, all healthy adults are advised to limit caffeine consumption to no more than 400 milligrams-the equivalent of two or three eight-ounce cups of coffee. People who regularly experience anxiety or insomnia — as well as those with high blood pressure, heart problems, or urinary incontinence — should also limit caffeine.

If you’re already missing that morning Joe, there is good news. Research has shown that coffee-in moderation-may have a number of health-promoting properties. (Note: these therapeutic benefits do NOT apply to pregnant women. In fact, coffee and caffeine contribute to low birth weight and can even damage the baby’s heart muscle).

Now, for the even better news. I can reset the body to eliminate a caffeine allergy. If you suspect that you have a problem with caffeine, come into the office. I will test your body’s reaction to coffee, soda and chocolate. If caffeine is causing your symptoms, I will treat the sensitivity so you can go back to enjoying your favorite foods and drinks without worry.

For 20 years, before moving to Atlanta, Dr. Mike treated many celebrities, top CEO’s and world-class athletes in Los Angeles. He has toured the country treating colleagues and has been a participating health care provider at four Olympic Games.


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