I’m sure many of you have been there before — 11am rolls around along with your third cup of coffee and, by lunchtime, your focus is draining and the jitters are setting in. But for some, even just a sip of coffee can bring on the shakes or leave them restless. I’m lucky that I can enjoy a few cups a day and not have it affect me too much.
The NHS suggests that adults should not consume more than 400 mg of caffeine a day, pregnant women no more than 200mg/day, and children/adolescents should stick to less than 2.5mg/kg/d. To put this into perspective, a single shot of espresso contains about 63 mg of caffeine, on average, and can vary slightly depending on the type of coffee bean, how it’s roasted, and even how it’s ground and brewed.
Caffeine tolerance is definitely a sliding scale. The way our bodies metabolise and respond to it differs from person to person, so it’s important to know your own limits and recognise sudden caffeine sensitivity.
What is caffeine intolerance?
This is essentially when the body has a negative response to drinking caffeine and can occur with even very small amounts, depending on your own sensitivity. Caffeine intolerance symptoms may include:
- Insomnia or disturbed sleep
- High blood pressure
- IBS related symptoms
- Increased heart rate
It’s also important to remember that caffeine isn’t just found in tea and coffee — it’s also present in dark chocolate and fizzy drinks!
How to get rid of caffeine intolerance
It can be tricky to get rid of caffeine intolerance completely since the underlying cause can vary so much and may even be down to our bodies genetics and metabolism — pretty difficult to change that! However, some ideas to lessen the effects of caffeine on your body are:
- Steadily increase the amount of caffeine you consume — be sure to do this slowly to avoid shocking your body. You want your body to adjust and get used to metabolising the caffeine
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day — caffeine is a diuretic so it’s important to stay well hydrated to lessen any negative effects
What is caffeine sensitivity?
Unlike caffeine intolerance, people with caffeine sensitivity can consume small amounts of caffeine before they feel any negative side effects. It’s also believed that people who are sensitive to caffeine metabolise it slower meaning the side effects can last longer. The sought after effects of consuming caffeine — namely heightened concentration and/or alertness — are reached quicker and more easily in those with caffeine sensitivity, and may well last longer. This can be seen as a positive, as you won’t necessarily have to rely on 2 cups of coffee to give you the buzz you’re looking for. A square of dark chocolate or cup of matcha tea may well be enough to get you there!
What causes caffeine sensitivity?
They way we respond to caffeine can come down to a number of different factors, including:
- How often we consume caffeine
In my reading, I’ve come across cases of sudden caffeine sensitivity. This can be brought on if you’re used to consuming caffeine on a regular basis, stop for a period of time and then immediately jump back to eating or drinking it at the same rate. In some cases, this can be brought on by just a couple days’ break. You may then find you experience some of the negative responses (e.g restlessness, increased heart rate, anxiety) even if you didn’t before.
When it comes to knowing if you suffer from sensitivity or intolerance to caffeine, it’s important to remember that everyone is unique. A friend or colleague may be fine with a few cups of coffee every day, but that may not be the same for you. You should also note that many symptoms of caffeine intolerance can overlap with other sensitivities. The best advice is to speak to your GP or a dietitian.