Caffeine & Anxiety: The 411!

May 17, 2021

Author: Angela Trotter, M.S., CNS, AFMCP, Clinical Functional Nutritionist

There’s a lot of information out there in regard to caffeine, some touting its benefits, while others vehemently oppose its consumption.  Truth is, there are known benefits to caffeine consumption, coffee most notably, showing that consumption can increase cognitive abilities, improve energy and increase arousal and alertness.  However, there is a caveat, and it comes down to your unique genotype and unique set of symptoms.    

Caffeine is a psychostimulant, and is considered a drug due to its stimulatory effects on the central nervous system.  Therefore, caffeine can aggravate anxiety and precipitate panic attacks in those who experience anxiety and panic disorder due to these effects.   Furthermore, caffeine can interfere with the sleep cycle leading to sleep disturbances and insomnia.  We know how important proper sleep is for those already experiencing anxiety, where increased anxiety can make sleep more challenging, and sleep deprivation can worsen anxiety. 

Another effect of caffeine consumption is that it increases the release of catecholamines, which include the stress hormones norepinephrine and epinephrine, which result in an increased stress response – or symptoms like increased heart palpitations, shaking, anxiety, high blood pressure, etc.  So for those of us who have genetic variances that cause us to clear our catecholamines out more slowly, we would definitely not want anything increasing our stress response any further, which can further exacerbate anxiety

I know we all have that one friend, who at 8 pm decides to have an espresso after dinner, and ends up snoring peacefully at 10 pm, where some of us – even without caffeine – need an impeccable nighttime routine that consists of blue light blocking glasses, dimmed lighting, an Epsom salt bath, 30 minutes of meditation and a whole shrub of lavender just to be able to fall asleep.  Just doesn’t seem fair, does it?   Well, this is a prime example of genetic differences.  When it comes to caffeine, there are ‘fast’ metabolizers and ‘slow’ metabolizers.  These variations in caffeine metabolism depend upon the CYP1A2 enzyme.  Basically, this means that those with a faster CYP1A2 enzyme will clear caffeine out more quickly, whereas slow metabolizers will take longer to clear out the same amount of caffeine intake.  Another interesting fact is that this same enzyme, the CYP1A2 enzyme, plays a role in estrogen clearance, where we see those who use oral contraceptives that contain synthetic estrogens, or post-menopausal women taking estrogen hormone replacement, have a doubling of time it takes for them to clear caffeine after consumption. 

In conclusion, we are all uniquely different and each of us will have a unique threshold to caffeine tolerance, and clearance.  However, for those who already struggle with anxiety, panic attacks, sleep disturbances, or are more sensitive to stress due to genetic variations – then I would suggest trying a slow process of weaning from caffeine to see if you notice an improvement in your overall levels of stress and/or anxiety

Have specific questions about your caffeine consumption? Contact Angela Today

Author: Angela Trotter, M.S., CNS, AFMCP, Clinical Functional Nutritionist

*Please Note: The information provided on or through this website or blog is for educational and informational purposes only and solely as a self-help tool for your own use. Engaging with this material does not constitute a client/therapist relationship*



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