Caffeine withdrawal : Brewing up a headache
Caffeine, or rather the lack of it, is a very common cause of headaches. If you normally drink several cups of tea or coffee per day, you’ll probably get a caffeine withdrawal headache if you break your routine. If you sleep late at the weekend, your body will miss its early morning dose of caffeine and you may wake up with a raging headache.
The received wisdom is that only heavy consumers of caffeine suffer these withdrawal symptoms. Recent research from the US however points to a more widespread problem. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore showed people who consume just 100mg of caffeine (one coffee) a day can show withdrawal symptoms.
Tea and coffee are the most common source of caffeine, but some soft drinks (Coke, Pepsi, Dr Pepper etc) and most stimulant drinks contain caffeine and so does chocolate.
Can of cola 40mg
Cup of tea 50mg
Cup of instant coffee 75 mg
Mug of coffee 100 mg
Can of stimulant drink 80 mg
Bar of plain chocolate 50 mg
The withdrawal effects from these soft drinks and chocolate are the same as for tea and coffee. A study by researchers at Tel Aviv University looked at 36 young people who suffered from daily headaches. They gradually weaned them off caffeinated soft drinks and managed to cure all headaches in 33 of them.
Caffeinated headache pills
It’s even possible to be addicted to caffeine without consuming any caffeinated food or drink. Several leading brands of pain relief tablets actually contain caffeine. In some cases one tablet has almost the same caffeine content as a cup of instant coffee. It is therefore quite possible for regular pain relief users to get a caffeine withdrawal headache if they stop taking the pills.
Anadin Extra 45 mg per tablet
Anadin Original 15 mg per tablet
Solpadeine Plus 30 mg per tablet
Hedex Extra 65 mg per tablet
Lemsip Max cold and flu capsules 25 mg per capsule
Alka Seltzer XS 40 mg per tablet
The reason drug manufacturers put caffeine into some of their pain relief products is that it makes pain-relievers up to 40% more effective in treating headaches. Caffeine also helps the body absorb headache medications more quickly, bringing faster relief.
Caffeine cold turkey
According to the Johns Hopkins study it takes 12 to 24 hours for the withdrawal symptoms to set in after stopping caffeine. Symptoms include headaches, fatigue or drowsiness, depression and irritability, difficulty concentrating and flu-like symptoms of nausea, vomiting and muscle pain or stiffness. Peak intensity comes between one and two days, and the symptoms last for two to nine days. In general, the study found the more caffeine you consumed, the worse the withdrawal symptoms. If you want to give up, the researchers say a gradual step by step reduction will break the addiction without any pain.