caffeine addiction

Caffeine Addiction – Are You Addicted Without Realising?

Just 36 hours without caffeine and I thought I was seriously ill! When I took the plunge to see what I would feel like without caffeine I found myself practically disabled with the worst headache of my life. That’s when it dawned on me that perhaps caffeine wasn’t good for me… AND it was obvious I had a caffeine addiction!

I wanted to know why I had got a headache, and such a bad one.

Caffeine and Stress

Caffeine blocks the action of adenosine in our brains. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter (a brain messenger) and its purpose is to slow down the rate of brain cell firing. Uncontrolled firing, triggered by caffeine, causes the brain to release a hormone called ACTH.

ACTH is released into our bloodstreams and when it reaches our adrenal glands (little glands that sit on top of our kidneys) it causes a release of stress hormones: adrenalin and cortisol.

Adrenalin triggers the fight or flight reaction. This was for stress that was episodic. It was essential to our survival thousands of years ago when we were running away from animals who wanted to eat us. However, the reaction is the same today, only we’re not running about – we’re sitting around drinking tea, coffee and soft drinks. Regular caffeine puts your body in a constant state of stress.

Cortisol is also pumped into the blood stream from the adrenals. This hormone stays in the bloodstream for much longer than adrenalin, up to 18 hours a day even with average intake. You don’t ‘feel’ cortisol like you can with adrenalin. This one does its damage quietly. It decreases the quality of sleep and speeds up ageing. It also dampens down your immune system making it easier to pick up bugs.

Caffeine DOES NOT give you energy. It stimulates your nervous system and your adrenal glands and that is not energy it is stress. The energy you receive is just a loan from your adrenals. One day they may wear out and that causes problems.

Caffeine Withdrawal Headache If You Quit

As part of the stress reaction you produce vascular resistance. What this means is that the peripheral blood vessels constrict. Blood is diverted to the muscles to aid the fight or flight response. This constriction includes the fine blood vessels in the brain, so blood flow reduces in the brain.

Caffeine withdrawal headache results from normal opening of blood vessels that have been constricted. Regular caffeine users are disrupting blood flow to the brain. This is not good, even if the body gets used to it.

How to Quit Caffeine

  1. You can go cold turkey but this is horrible!
  2. A better way it to gradually reduce over a number of weeks, there is no rush. Even doing this you can get some withdrawal symptoms but they don’t last long.

Uber Health to you, Dr Julie 🙂



10 thoughts on “Caffeine Addiction – Are You Addicted Without Realising?”

  1. Very informative and actually pretty scary. Yikes. When I was a kid, I remember seeing my parents get up in the morning and it was like the walking dead. Then, after they would drink their beloved coffee and wake up they were literally different people! I thought it was odd and I realized that this was not healthy, and told myself I never wanted to be like them. Yet…..the caffeine bug bit me as well! There was a time I was literally drinking it ALL day about 3 years ago. I felt so horrible. That lead me to do a detox and I stopped drinking almost all caffeine (other then green tea) for 6 months. I was so proud of myself! Then, life + work + school hit and I started drinking 1 cup a day. Then 2 cups, then 3-5 again! Now I am at one cup a day (most days), but I still have such an emotional attachment to it. Anyhow…..great post. It was information I needed to hear! Also, I had no idea that headaches were from blood vessels returning to normal. Wow… that is sad.

  2. Dr Julie … thanks this for very interesting article….. its certainly made me think about my caffeine intake currently drink about 5/6 cups of tea per day (no coffee at all) what would you recommend for the best course of action? a complete stop or a reduced intake to get your self of it?

    1. Hi James
      If you fancy seeing what life feels like without caffeine – good for you.
      Cold turkey is different for different people but with the amount you are drinking I think you’ll feel withdrawal effects. The headache is the obvious one but people also often feel generally not well – achy, tired, irritable, tired – pretty horrible.
      People often say they get ‘brain fog’ too and become clumsy and even a bit slow for a few days.
      You’ve probably been drinking tea for years so there’s no hurry – I would do it gradually (unless your’e a glutton for punishment :))

  3. Very informative post. I appreciate the information.

    I attended a seminar last year for my CE in nursing. It was entitled,”Protecting the Aging Brain: Focus on Nutrition and Mind/Body Health. It was presented by Gary W. Arendash, Ph.D.; Research Professor, Florida Alzheimer’s Research Center and University of South Florida.

    As a non-coffee drinker, I was surprised by one of the research results that Dr. Arendash reported to us. First he discussed the age-related changes in the brain, then he proceeded to discuss how to protect the aging brain. One of the nutritional methods was with “caffeine.”

    Allow me to share with you some of the tidbits I noted down from that research. Caffeine and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD): intake of 3-5 cups of coffee per day during midlife reduces risk of AD by 65%; caffeine intake was very low in AD patients for the 20 years before they were diagnosed; the mechanism of caffeine benefit against AD is due to suppression of both beta- and gamma-secretase.

    So, this was the recommended therapeutic dose for humans: 500 mg caffeine/day. I believe he said that that amounted to 5 cups of coffee per day (using 8 oz cups); or 14 cups of tea; 20 cups of soft drinks, or 83 oz of milk chocolate (equals 5 lbs.).

    Alcohol was another “nutritional” means of protecting the aging brain. One to two drinks per day decreases the risk of age-associated memory impairment, AD, and vascular dementia. A new study showed that moderate drinkers (1-2 drinks/day) had 50% less death over a 20 year period compared to non-drinkers or heavy drinkers.

    Since there were other nutritional and mind/body methods to protect the aging brain, I did not fret about those revelations. I also don’t drink alcohol.

  4. I’ve got a caffeine horror story… a few years ago I used to go and stay with my sister and her family in her house in Blackpool. The funny thing was, every single time I used to go and stay with her, after a couple of days I would start to get a headache, which would get worse and worse and would eventually get really sick and end up vomiting. My mum and Step Dad used to experience exactly the same thing when they visited and we were at a total loss as to why going to stay with her made us all so ill.

    A couple of years later she moved to a different house, and we noticed that when we went to stay we no longer became ill. We assumed it must have been something to do with the old house, until I went shopping with her during a visit…

    As she put a jar of coffee into her trolley she remarked that when they lived at their old house she always used to buy decaffeinated coffee, but since they moved she hadn’t bothered and now bought ordinary coffee.

    The penny dropped straight away- every time we had visited her at her old house we were all withdrawing from the caffeine! My mum and Step Dad drink loads of coffee and so do I… it’s scary really- time I addressed this addiction!

    1. Classic!
      This is the trouble with caffeine addiction – a lot of people don’t realise they are having withdrawal symptoms and just assume they are ill.

      I imagine reaching for a cup of tea or coffee to perk you up would have felt like the right thing to do which obviously reinforces our view of caffeine being good for us.

      Thanks for posting this Steph, I’m sure a lot of people have been through the same thing without realising.

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