How does caffeine affect your anxiety?

20th Jul 18 | Lifestyle

We asked a nutritionist to explain...

For plenty of us, a strong cup of coffee in the morning is the only way we can muster the strength to roll out of bed and power through the first few hours of the day.

Swigging down a frothy latte before firing up your emails is pretty much standard practice here in the UK, as is grabbing a lunchtime pick-me-up before you brave the afternoon slump.

But if you’re a regularly coffee drinker (and these days, who isn’t?) do you actually know how much of the brown stuff is bad for your body?

According to Anxiety UK, very few of us monitor our daily caffeine intake, and through an array of food, drink, and even pharmaceutical products, many of us are unwittingly exceeding our caffeine intake – often before we’ve even reached the office.

For instance, a Starbucks filter coffee, which is a staple of many people’s commutes, would take you over your daily recommended limit of 300mg alone, with 308mg of caffeine.

The average Brit also consumes 876 cups of tea a year, adding another 77.5mg of caffeine per day on top.

A couple of squares of dark chocolate at your desk (up to 80mg per 100g) and a couple of painkillers throughout the day (there’s 45mg per tablet in a packet of Anadin Extra) and you’re well on your way to consuming nearly double, if not triple, the amount you should be.

It’s no wonder you’re feeling on edge during your morning meeting….

Around three million people in the UK suffer with anxiety – and exceeding the recommended caffeine intake can have a significantly negative impact on this, making the underlying symptoms of stress, unease and panic feel worse.

So how exactly does caffeine work and what can you do to cut back if you’re an anxiety sufferer that regularly experiences coffee jitters? We asked Will Hawkins a nutritionist from Push Doctor to explain…

What does caffeine actually do to the body?

“Caffeine is a known stimulant. In the brain, it blocks the function of an inhibitory neurotransmitter (brain hormone) called adenosine.

“By blocking adenosine, caffeine actually increases activity in the brain and the release of other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine and dopamine. This reduces tiredness and makes us feel more alert. There are numerous studies showing that caffeine can lead to a short-term boost in brain function, including improved mood, reaction time and general cognitive function.

“In a recent study, healthy volunteers who led active lives completed three experimental trials. Two trials involved cycling on an ergometer (an exercise machine) 90 minutes after drinking 3mg/kg-1 caffeine (around the same amount as a cup of coffee) or a placebo.

“A resting (no cycling or caffeine) control trial was also completed. The intake of caffeine resulted in the exercise being perceived as less difficult and more enjoyable. Furthermore, more energy was expended with a greater fat oxidation (burnt) in the trial where volunteers had caffeine in their system,  compared to the placebo exercise trial.”

Does caffeine cause anxiety?

“It’s a difficult question. There are some important negative aspects that need to be noted to avoid over consumption with caffeine.

“It’s been noted that consuming too much caffeine can lead to jitteriness, anxiety, heart palpitations and may even exacerbate panic attacks.

“The truth is, the individual difference in sensitivity in response to caffeine makes it difficult to give a recommended or optimal amount for the user.

“However, if you feel that you are sensitive to caffeine and tend to become overstimulated, I would advise you opt for a drink with less caffeine or no caffeine at all. ”

How can people who are feeling anxious cut back?

Here are some options to consider if you’re getting an anxious feeling from caffeine consumption, but still want to consume it:

– Make sure you drink at least six to eight glasses of filtered water daily.

– Instead of caffeine in the morning, take some warm water with freshly-squeezed lemon juice.

– To prevent irritableness, make sure your bowel movements are regular.

– If you are tired/stressed, allow more time for sleep.

– Take 1,000 mg buffered vitamin C with breakfast and dinner.

– Make sure you exercise daily to help fight off fatigue. Even simple walking is good, around 30 minutes daily.

– Some people rely on substituting coffee for real food. When you are hungry, make sure to eat and do not let your blood sugar get too low. Have some protein in the afternoon such as a handful of nuts or seeds like almonds, pecans, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds, cooked beans, or a piece of steamed or baked fish.

© Press Association 2018