Caffeine Withdrawal: Symptoms and Solutions

Learn about the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, ranging from mild to severe. Also check out some tips on how to wean yourself from caffeine without the discomfort of withdrawal.

If you’ve ever had a coffee or soda habit, you may have experienced caffeine withdrawal symptoms. They’re uncomfortable, sometimes flu-like symptoms that can distract you from your work, disrupt your sleep, and make you irritable around your loved ones. Because coffee and soda are such normal beverages around the home and workplace, it can be easy to forget that caffeine, though mild, is still a drug just like any other. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association included “Caffeine Withdrawal” in a recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-51), a publication for health care professionals that describes the criteria of mental disorders. Caffeine withdrawal causes real symptoms in the human body, and this article will describe some of those symptoms, and a few different methods you can use to relieve them.

Caffeine withdrawal: symptoms and solutions.

Common Symptoms of Caffeine Withdrawal

Caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system, and it is also the world’s most commonly used psychoactive substance. Caffeine affects your neural activity, increasing alertness and reducing fatigue. If you regularly consume caffeine your body begins to rely on it, and when you stop, you can experience withdrawal. Here is a list of some common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

1. Headache

One of the most commonly reported symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, headaches are caused because caffeine constricts blood vessels in the brain, slowing the blood flow. One study showed that those who consume fewer than 3 cups of coffee a day can reduce their cerebral blood flow by up to 27%. Once the blood vessels narrow, reducing your caffeine consumption allows the blood flow to increase to the brain again, which can cause painful, sometimes severe headaches as the brain readapts. The headaches will eventually subside, but read to the end of this article to find our suggested solutions for relieving the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal.

2. Difficulty Concentrating

Coffee, tea, and energy drinks with caffeine are often taken to boost concentration, so when you suddenly stop consuming them, that benefit ends. Caffeinated beverages are often used to improve focus before tests, athletic events, or presentations because caffeine causes your adrenal glands to up their production of adrenaline. Caffeine also boosts your excitatory neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and dopamine. Overall, caffeine works by raising your heart rate, your blood pressure, and stimulating your brain. Phasing out caffeine forces your body to suddenly adapt to doing without all those perks.

3. Fatigue

That feeling of tiredness you often use a cup of coffee to counteract? If you quit caffeine, that fatigue may return with a vengeance. Caffeine increases alertness by blocking adenosine receptors, a neurotransmitter that causes drowsiness. When that is removed from your body’s chemistry, the adenosine comes right back, and affects you in a way you may have become unaccustomed to dealing with on your own.

One study of 213 habitual caffeine drinkers showed that abstaining from caffeine for only 16 hours caused feelings of fatigue. Those who consumed caffeine the most had much more severe withdrawal symptoms. Because the energy caffeine provides only lasts up to 4-6 hours, it becomes easy for normal users to get into the habit of drinking multiple cups of coffee or energy drinks each day, just to maintain their desired level of alertness. It also deepens their dependency.

4. Anxiety

Because caffeine is a stimulant that increases your blood pressure, heart rate, and the stress hormones epinephrine and cortisol, just 1 cup of coffee can make some people anxious and jittery. However, suddenly stopping your caffeine consumption can cause this side effect as well, as your body has become physically and mentally dependent on a substance it’s no longer getting. Moreover if you take your caffeine in the form of soda or sweetened coffee you may be feeling the lack of sugar intake as well, which could amp up the restlessness and anxiety you feel and make your caffeine withdrawal even worse.

5. Irritability

Regular coffee drinkers are often cranky or irritable before their morning cup of java. It’s a lack of caffeine that may be the cause of that, because caffeine only lasts in your system for 4-6 hours and it’s worn off after a night’s rest. As coffee drinkers are used to the mood-altering effects of caffeine, the lack of it can bring feelings of irritability. One study of 94 caffeine drinkers who wanted to cut back on their caffeine intake showed that 89% of the participants were unsuccessful, reportedly due to the symptoms of withdrawal, which included anger and irritability.

6. Depressed Mood

Caffeine is well known for perking people up and elevating their mood because it blocks adenosine receptors. Studies have shown that those who consume caffeine regularly have a more positive mood compared to those taking a placebo. It can go so far as to reduce the risk of depression, as seen in one study on over 50,000 women which found that those who drank 4 or more cups of coffee a day had a 20% lower risk of depression. Removing those benefits by ceasing caffeine consumption can cause a depression in mood, a side effect that could be quite dangerous, as depression is a serious condition that could alter someone’s life for the worse.

7. Tremors

Another serious side effect of caffeine withdrawal: tremors. Those with a serious dependency may find their hands shake after they quit caffeine, because caffeine is a stimulant of the central nervous system. Quitting cold turkey could be ill advised for those with anxiety disorders or a long-term caffeine addiction, as these hand tremors could last between 2 and 9 days after stopping caffeine intake. Tremors lasting any longer than that may mean you need to consult a medical professional to make sure there isn’t an underlying cause beyond consuming too much caffeine.

Ways to Reduce Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

Here are some tips for treating caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

1. Over-the-Counter Medications

For headaches or difficulty falling asleep, over-the-counter medications like pain relievers and sleep aids can help in the short term, to get you past those first few days of caffeine withdrawal. Ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and aspirin (Bayer) can help a caffeine withdrawal headache, but be sure to take them as instructed on the label, as some medications can cause stomach bleeding or kidney damage if overused.

2. Reduce Slowly and Stay Hydrated

Reducing your dependence on caffeine slowly is a way to minimize withdrawal symptoms while avoiding over-the-counter drugs. If you are drinking multiple cups of coffee a day, for example, you may want to take a month and reduce your caffeine consumption by 25% each week. That means 4 cups a day on a usual week should go down to 3 cups the next week, and so on until you can experience milder withdrawal symptoms. Switching to decaf or herbal tea after that can help you keep your habits and obey your taste cravings, and staying hydrated reduces instances of headache.

3. Amino Acids for Caffeine Withdrawal

Another option you might try is supplementing with the amino acid L-tyrosine for caffeine withdrawal (also known as tyrosine). Your brain synthesizes dopamine from tyrosine, which is normally gained from either high-protein food sources (cod, eggs, spirulina, beef, poultry, pork, dairy products, avocados, nuts, and seeds), or from another amino acid, phenylalanine.

The brain overproduces dopamine when you consume caffeine, first depleting your stores of tyrosine, then phenylalanine. When you stop caffeine consumption suddenly, your body may be unable to normally produce dopamine for a short time until it replenishes its amino acid stores.

Supplementing with a comprehensive amino acid supplement that includes tyrosine or phenylalanine (which helps restore both of them), could help you quit caffeine cold turkey, but without the cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

The last facet will be to replace the behaviors around caffeine consumption: heading to a coffee shop, having a soda as a midday pick-me-up, or relying on energy drinks when you need to focus. Replacing behavioral habits with new ones, and replacing your physiological dependence with the help of an amino acid supplement, may allow you to skip the backlash of removing daily caffeine from your life (and help keep you from backsliding into a habit you no longer want to participate in).

Remove Caffeine from Your Routine

Caffeine dependence is a very common predicament in the modern world. Most people are able to kick the habit on their own eventually, but relapsing is a common occurrence too. Consider using the tips above to stick to your new caffeine-free resolution, and consult a medical professional if you notice extreme withdrawal symptoms like double vision, confusion, or nausea, especially if they persist for longer than 9 days. Other than that, quitting caffeine is definitely doable, and you know you have the strength to see it through.

The Relationship Between Energy and Amino Acids

Energy is one of the primary markers of health. When people are asked about their health, low energy is often a common complaint. What many people don’t realize, however, is that energy and amino acids go hand in hand.

Energy is one of the primary markers of health. When people are asked about their health, low energy is often a common complaint. Likewise, when people are asked to identify a benefit from a nutritional supplement, “improved energy” is often the first thing they report. What many people don’t realize, however, is that energy and amino acids go hand in hand.

Almost everyone, even the most energetic among us, desires more energy. So it’s no accident that energy drinks have become so popular. However, the concept of energy is somewhat vague. What does having energy really mean?

To understand the relationship between energy and amino acids, we must first distinguish between physical and mental energy. These two types of energy are clearly related, but distinct. By considering physical and mental energy separately, we can better understand the physiologic basis for each.

Energy and Amino Acids: What Fuels Our Bodies?

Physical energy requires not just fuel for our bodies but also all the necessary vitamins and cofactors—the inorganic substances needed for certain enzymes to carry out their functions—required to convert food to an energy form our cells can utilize.

Assuming all vitamins and cofactors are available, the energy necessary for physiologic functions is derived from combining carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and (in some cases) alcohol with oxygen in a process known as oxidation. These energy substrates—molecules acted on by an enzyme—can thus be considered the “fuel” of the body.

The major form of chemical energy in the body is a compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Energy is released when ATP is broken down to adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and phosphate.

ATP is regenerated by the metabolism of the macronutrient (food required in large amounts for optimum nutrition) energy substrates mentioned above as well as by the oxidation of amino acids.

Chemical Energy and Mitochondria

The energy needed to perform physical functions such as exercise comes from the chemical energy stored in ATP. ATP is the universal fuel used by all cells.

In general, food is digested and absorbed as its basic components (glucose and other simple sugars, fatty acids, and amino acids), which are then used for structural needs, stored away, or oxidized for energy.

The oxidation of nutrients into chemical energy involves complex biochemical pathways. The Krebs cycle, named for its discoverer, Sir Hans Adolf Krebs—and also known as the citric acid or tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle—involves a series of chemical reactions in which carbon structures derived from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are metabolized, with the production of ATP as a byproduct.

The TCA cycle operates inside mitochondria, which are specialized organelles within cells that are responsible for “digesting” nutrients and turning them into energy.

The energy and amino acid relationship.

Oxidation of Amino Acids for ATP Production

The majority of physical energy comes from the oxidation of fats and carbohydrates. However, every amino acid in the body can potentially be oxidized to produce ATP.

The amount of oxidation undergone by the essential amino acids (or EAAs)—the nine dietary amino acids that can’t be produced in the body and must be obtained from food—determines how much of each essential amino acid you need in a day.

The amount of protein synthesized by the body will decrease if a steady supply of EAAs is not maintained, leading to conditions such as muscle loss and impaired immune function. Therefore, any EAA that is oxidized must be replaced through the diet.

The oxidation of EAAs is important physiologically even though only a minimal amount of total energy production is derived from this process. For example, at rest, less than 10% of energy production comes from the oxidation of amino acids.

Exercise greatly increases the requirements for ATP, and part of that ATP comes from amino acid oxidation. This is one reason why the consumption of a number of whole foods and supplements, including whey protein, is recommended in the field of sports nutrition both pre-workout and post. However, amino acid oxidation does not increase uniformly during exercise.

Among the EAAs, there is a selective increase in the oxidation of leucine. However, even with the increase seen during exercise, leucine oxidation provides only about 3% to 4% of energy for ATP production. Yet leucine plays a crucial role in regulating protein synthesis and other metabolic processes, so extra leucine needs to be consumed after exercise to replace what was oxidized.

While amino acids, particularly EAAs, do not play a major role in overall energy production, there are a number of aspects of amino acid oxidation that are important for the body’s metabolic regulation. To understand the critical nature of EAA oxidation is to appreciate that the body regulates the availability of all EAAs at a relatively constant level.

Consuming a high-protein meal causes EAA availability to increase. This increased concentration of EAAs stimulates their oxidation and minimizes changes in EAA availability. By contrast, if you do not consume enough EAAs through your diet, metabolic adaptations occur that reduce the rate of EAA oxidation.

The oxidation of specific amino acids is important for the body. For example, the availability of certain amino acids depends on the oxidation of other amino acids.

Take tyrosine, for example. This amino acid is produced in the liver from the oxidation of the EAA phenylalanine. Maintaining an adequate amount of tyrosine in the blood is critical, as tyrosine is a precursor of the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.

Specific tissues and organs also have metabolic preferences for certain amino acids. Most prominently, glutamine (a nonessential amino acid) is a preferred substrate for the gut.

Amino Acids Augment Mitochondria

Only recently have we begun to appreciate the difference in energy levels the number of available mitochondria and their ability to operate at full capacity can make. Both amino acid supplementation and exercise are known to increase numbers of mitochondria and enhance their function.

By contrast, alcohol or drug use has been shown to induce mitochondrial defects by increasing oxidative stress and damaging mitochondrial genetic material—deoxynucleic acid, or DNA. When alcohol damages mitochondrial DNA, it impairs mitochondrial function, which further increases oxidative cell stress, leading to a vicious cycle of accumulating cell damage and decreased energy production over time.

Mental Energy: What Balances Our Brains?

Energy drinks typically contain caffeine (with a range of 6 to 242 mg of caffeine, according to Consumer Reports) and perhaps some B vitamins.

Whether used to help one wake up first thing in the morning or as an afternoon pick-me-up, these beverages clearly aid in sharpening concentration and increasing the body’s overall feeling of energy.

Surprisingly, when it comes to maintaining mental energy and focus, amino acids play as important a role as caffeine. In contrast to caffeine, however, amino acids impact mental energy by modulating neurotransmitters within the brain.

Many of the brain’s neurotransmitters are produced through the conversion of amino acids as they pass through the blood-brain barrier. In addition, two amino acids—glutamate and aspartate—are themselves considered neurotransmitters.

The interaction of neurotransmitters in the brain determines many aspects of behavior. To simplify a very complex system, the key determinant of mental energy is the balance between the neurotransmitters dopamine (excitatory) and serotonin (inhibitory).

The amounts of dopamine and serotonin in the brain are dependent on the availability of the precursors for their productionTyrosine is the amino acid precursor of dopamine, and tryptophan is the amino acid precursor of serotonin.

Tyrosine is also derived from the oxidation of phenylalanine. However, neither phenylalanine nor tryptophan is made in the body, as both are EAAs.

Increasing the amount of phenylalanine consumed in the diet will, via conversion to tyrosine, increase mental energy by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain.

Conversely, increasing tryptophan consumption, such as through the use of the dietary supplement L-tryptophan, will induce a feeling of sleepiness or lack of energy by promoting serotonin production.

Amino Acid Balance and Mental and Physical Energy

Amino acids help support both physical and mental energy via a wide range of actions. While supplementation with individual amino acids may produce particular reactions, disrupting the body’s balance by consuming a single or small combination of amino acids may be counterproductive when it comes to other functions.

An amino acid supplement containing relatively high levels of phenylalanine (tyrosine is nearly insoluble and difficult to add to a dietary supplement) and low levels of tryptophan can provide mental sharpness and focus. However, an isolated increase in phenylalanine can also induce Parkinson-like symptoms in susceptible individuals.

Likewise, consumption of leucine can counter the accelerated rate of oxidation that occurs during exercise, but the use of leucine in isolation will activate the oxidation of valine and isoleucine, thereby limiting muscle protein synthesis.

Consequently, to replace the oxidized leucine and enhance post-workout muscle recovery, it is necessary to provide all three of the branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs—leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Finally, all EAAs must be available in sufficient quantities to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, which is the metabolic basis for increased muscle growth, strength, and function.

Hence, the gold standard approach for the maintenance of both mental and physical energy involves choosing a free-form amino acid formulation that takes into account not only the direct actions of the component amino acids but also the importance of maintaining a relative balance of EAAs to sustain maximal benefit.