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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…

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 :)