Caffeine and Neuropathy
Many of us like to start our day with a caffeinated beverage. Beverages like coffee, energy drinks, and black and green teas are among the most common examples. Chocolate and decaffeinated coffee also contain some trace amounts of caffeine6. Caffeine helps to wake us up, makes us feel energized, and for some of us, it acts as a benchmark for the start of the day.
Though caffeine can have its benefits, too much can put undue stress on your nerves. While caffeine is not proven to play a role in causing neuropathy5, the stress on the nerves can add to your neuropathy pain. Understanding caffeine’s effect on your body can help you manage your neuropathy symptoms.
Caffeine & Nerves
Caffeine works by stimulating your central nervous system. This nerve stimulation causes you to feel more alert and less fatigued5. Caffeine also increases your blood pressure, which increases your heart rate. Too much caffeine can result in other side effects, like nervousness, shaking, headaches, dizziness, and insomnia. These side effects mean caffeine is putting stress on the body, and therefore can add to the stress being experienced with your neuropathy.
Your Body on Caffeine
While caffeine is consumed for its effect on the nervous system, it also affects other different parts of the body. It is a diuretic, meaning it helps your body get rid of excess salt and water through your urine3. Salt and water are both necessary for good nerve function. In turn, you should not be using caffeinated beverages to hydrate yourself, too much can be dehydrating if you do not consume water along with it. You should be drinking about 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of coffee7.
Caffeine withdrawal also causes adverse effects. Caffeine withdrawal happens when you quit consuming your daily jolt all at once. The National Center for Biotechnology says that headache, drowsiness, irritability, and flu-like symptoms are among the more common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal1.
Caffeine is a substance with the unfortunate consequence of consuming in excess being unhealthy but quitting abruptly can also be hazardous to your health. If you are thinking about changing your caffeine consumption habits or quitting caffeine altogether, talk to your doctor first to establish a plan that is best for you.
4 Steps to Manage Caffeine Intake/ Symptoms
To reduce the impact caffeine has on your body, consider implementing steps to reduce your intake. If you are concerned about the negative effects of cutting back caffeine, talk to your doctor about the best way to move forward.
- Know Which Foods Contain Caffeine: Caffeinated beverages like coffee or tea are not the only foods that have caffeine in them. Chocolate (and cocoa in general), energy drinks, pop, and some supplements also contain caffeine. Some pain medications also have caffeine in them1. Pay attention to food and medication labels so you know how much caffeine you are consuming.
- Keep Track of Your Caffeine Consumption: You can help manage the side effects of caffeine by keeping track of how much you consume. On average, there is 95-200 mg of caffeine in an 8-ounce cup of coffee, 70-100 mg of caffeine in an 8-ounce can of energy drink, and 14-60 mg of caffeine in the same size cup of tea3. There is 12 mg in an ounce of chocolate, but let’s face it, who can eat just one? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers 400 milligrams of caffeine to be the maximum safe amount of caffeine, so trying to keep caffeine consumption below that level is a good strategy2. How much you can safely consume should be discussed with your doctor.
- Stay Hydrated: Since caffeine helps your body get rid of water, drinking caffeinated beverages will dehydrate you. Water is necessary for good nerve function, as it along with sodium helps transfer the messages across nerve cells8. It is important to drink lots of water throughout the day along with your caffeinated beverages to make sure you stay hydrated.
- Time Your Caffeine Consumption: Since caffeine makes you feel alert and can cause insomnia, it is wise not to eat foods with caffeine in them too close to bedtime. The Sleep Foundation recommends the cut-off time for caffeine use is a minimum of 6 hours before bedtime4. For example, if you usually go to bed by 10 pm you should stop consuming caffeine by 4 pm at the latest. Some of us even must be careful after 12 noon or risk being up all hours. Neuropathy already contributes to sleep problems; caffeine can really compound those problems. There is no one healthy way to approach caffeine consumption. Some may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others. Keep in mind how affected you are by consuming caffeine and consult your doctor before making any changes to your consumption habits.
- Board on Health Sciences Policy; Institute of Medicine. Washington (DC). (2014). Caffeine in Food and Dietary Supplements: Examining Safety: Workshop Summary. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
- Caffeine. (2020, November 12). The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/caffeine/
- Caffeine. (2021, March 24). MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/caffeine.html
- Foley, L. (2021, January 22). Caffeine and Sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/caffeine-and-sleep#:%7E:text=The%20recommended%20cut%2Doff%20time,can%20help%20minimize%20sleep%20problems.
- Henderson, L. W. (n.d.). Caffeine & Neuropathy | Livestrong.com. LIVESTRONG.COM. Retrieved June 7, 2021, from https://www.livestrong.com/article/496949-caffeine-neuropathy/
- Sawynok, J. (2011). Caffeine and pain. Pain, 152(4), 726–729. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pain.2010.10.011
- Bednaz, M. (2019, June 9). First hydration than coffee: How much H2O should you drink? – News. Croatia Bol Open. https://www.bolopen.com/en/news/first-hydration-than-coffee-how-much-h2o-should-you-drink/#:%7E:text=Coffee%20is%20a%20diuretic%20(something,you%20have%20in%20the%20morning.
- Bright, J. (2017, April 15). How Does Hydration Affect Your Brain? 5 Reasons to Drink More Water. Neurofeedback and Counseling of Utah. https://ntcutah.com/how-does-hydration-affect-your-brain/
Natalie was a Student Writer for the Calgary Neuropathy Association and has now completed her degree and is in the working world.