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Stress Management for Health Course

Stress and Caffeine


"Moderate caffeine consumption makes a person react like he/she is having a very stressful day.  If you combine the effects of real stress with the artificial boost in stress hormones that comes from caffeine, then you have compounded the effects considerably." (Professor James Lane, Duke University Medical Center)

Caffeine is a chemical found in tea, coffee, cola, chocolate etc., which acts as a stimulant and improves our concentration levels.  In the short-term caffeine gives us an energy boost and increases our levels of alertness, but in the long-term causes fatigue.  Caffeine reduces our ability to deal with stress, it also has a diuretic action and as a consequence of excess urination we loose vital minerals, such as the tranquillizing mineral magnesium that helps us cope with stress.

Caffeine acts as a stimulant to the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system which initiates the fight/flight response, causing the adrenal glands to release more stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol into the blood stream; these levels are already too high due to the stress we experience, caffeine exacerbates these levels.     

Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed drugs in the world today yet our body has absolutely no requirement for it what so ever.  Caffeine has psychoactive effects and levels as low as 250mgm a day are enough to be a factor in nervousness and insomnia.  Caffeine lowers our threshold for stress.

The brain produces its own natural tranquillising hormone called Adenosine which keeps anxiety within certain limits. However Caffeine docks into the receptor site in the brain where Adenosine should dock and so this can exacerbate our anxiety or stress.

Professor James Lane, of the Duke University Medical Center, carried out research on 72 people who regularly drank 4-5 cups of coffee a day.  The data from this study revealed that this level of coffee consumption produced a 32 % rise in levels of the stress hormone adrenaline and a 14% rise in the levels of the stress hormone noradrenaline. 

Professor Lane's research also revealed that the caffeine in 4-5 cups of coffee elevated the blood pressure by 3 points.  It may at first appear that 3 points rise in blood pressure is small and insignificant but research has shown that a rise of 5 points in diastolic blood pressure increases the risk of stroke by 34% and increases the chance of suffering a heart attack by 21%.

Individuals vary in their sensitivity to caffeine.  For example, caffeine can be a factor in triggering anxiety attacks and some people are so sensitive to caffeine that even the very small amounts of caffeine (around 4 - 5mg) that remains in decaffeinated tea and coffee can still trigger a panic attack in them.

Experts recommend we should not consume more than 250 mg of caffeine a day.  But this does not take into account an individuals sensitivity to caffeine, the lower your caffeine intake the better. By reducing caffeine you not only lower your stress, but your energy levels will increase also.


Some Conditions that can be Exacerbated by Caffeine


        Panic attacks





        Heart burn








        High cholesterol levels

        Bi-polar depression

        High Blood Pressure

        Pre Menstrual Tension

        Mood swings



Effects of Caffeine On The Body

        Increases heart rate

        Lowers blood sugar

        Depletes vitamin B6


        Increases blood pressure

        Speeds up loss of vitamins and minerals

        Increases blood cholesterol levels


Caffeine Withdrawal Plan

It can take up to three days to totally eliminate all caffeine from the body.  People who have given up caffeine have found that they are less stressed, their sleep improves and they have more energy.  A common mistake many people make when withdrawing from caffeine is that they don't drink any other fluid, its important to maintain fluid intake.  There are a number of alternatives to caffeine including fruit teas such as black current, apple etc, herbal teas like camomile and peppermint, fruit juices, and decaffeinated tea and coffee.  Limit your caffeine intake to 2 3 cups a day or ideally switch to caffeine free beverages.

The caffeine in decaffeinated tea and coffee is extracted by one of two methods; one method uses carbon dioxide while the other uses chemical solvents.  It is best to use the products where carbon dioxide is used as the extracting medium.



It's important to slowly reduce your caffeine intake over time and not to stop it all at once, because some people can suffer withdrawal effects and have severe headaches.  Reduce by one cup per week and replace it with a decaffeinated version.  Do this over time until you have replaced all your caffeine drinks with non-caffeine tea, coffee, fruit teas, fruit juices, water, etc.


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