Millions of people around the world rely on coffee each and every day. The daily dose of caffeine it provides helps them focus, stay alert, and get more things done. But what happens whenever negative side effects start creeping up?
The truth is, caffeine is a drug, and like any other drug, it has a host of potentially negative side effects that can come alongside the benefits it provides.
What Is Caffeine Intolerance?
In general, caffeine intolerance refers to any instance where negative side effects are observed after ingesting any substance that has a measurable amount of the chemical. Anyone can experience caffeine intolerance, and it can occur randomly in different parts of your life, often without warning.
Though there are many different potential causes of this sensitivity, it usually stems from your genetics. That said, it can also be triggered by certain medications, especially ones that affect your brain chemistry in any substantial way.
When caffeine is ingested, it is processed in your gut, and transferred to your bloodstream shortly after. From here, it can affect a number of different bodily functions, from your heart to your brain, liver, and circulatory system. Caffeine intolerance is commonly described as what happens when this “shock to the system” produces unwanted results.
Recommended Dosages of Caffeine
For the average human in good health, Healthline reports that doses of up to 400mg can be consumed daily without any serious issues. This equates to about four cups of regular coffee, for those keeping track.
Interestingly, about 10% of the population is described as being hypersensitive to caffeine, meaning that they can take in much higher amounts of caffeine, later in the day, and still not experience unwanted side effects, such as insomnia. Keep in mind that this is quite rare, but if you find that you never seem to experience as many pronounced effects (even positive ones) as others do, you may be included in this subset of individuals.
Caffeine Tolerance vs Caffeine Allergies
Contrary to popular belief, having a caffeine intolerance or sensitivity does not automatically mean you are allergic to the chemical. Being truly allergic is far more serious than a simple intolerance, carrying with it the potential for much more dangerous symptoms.
For reference, common symptoms of intolerance include the following, according to Healthline:
- racing heartbeat
- a headache
- nervousness or anxiousness
The health authority site reports that caffeine allergy symptoms, by contrast, include the following:
- itchy skin
- swelling of the throat or tongue
- in severe instances, difficulty breathing and anaphylaxis, a potentially dangerous condition
In addition, caffeine allergies are the same as any other allergic reaction; the body treats the substance as though it was an invader. This triggers a rise in inflammation throughout the body, which is largely responsible for many of the symptoms described above.
You can be born with this allergy, or it can develop later on in life. Treatment can include various antihistamines, which may help to reduce the severity of any rashes or hives, but ultimately, with allergies, the only recourse is to stop consuming caffeine altogether.
How Long Does It Take To Reset a Caffeine Intolerance?
In general, the best way to treat a caffeine intolerance is to simply cut the substance out of your diet completely, as you would if you were allergic. Of course, for millions of people all around the world, this is easier said than done. If you refer to keep experiencing the positive benefits of caffeine, we recommend lowering your dose until the symptoms are gone, or at least manageable.
There is no standardized, accepted answer to how long it’ll take for your symptoms to go away. For most, they are temporary, usually only lasting for several weeks or months at a time, but for others, caffeine intolerance can develop and settle in to stay.
To make matters more complicated, cutting o or lowering your caffeine intake after large periods of heavy ingestion can result in symptoms of withdrawal, due to the chemical’s high potential for addictivity. Symptoms such as headaches, irritability, shakiness, and fatigue have all been observed, but luckily, most of these seem to fade within a week of being caffeine-free. Compared to other substances, this process is fairly tame.
At the end of the day, it will be up to you to determine what should be done if you begin to experience symptoms of caffeine intolerance. If they are minimal, you may choose t simply ignore them, or lower your intake by some marginal amount.
However, if they begin to be more serious, you may need to consider cutting the substance out of your life, even if it means finding other ways to stay alert throughout the day, such as taking frequent breaks, going for a walk outside, and drinking plenty of water.
Have any other questions about caffeine intolerance? Let us know below.
Anthony is a professional barista in the city of Chicago. He has written for many online publications on various topics related to coffee.