This Is Your Brain On Caffeine
    By News Staff | May 2nd 2009 12:00 AM | 17 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Ever miss your daily cup of coffee and subsequently get a pounding headache? According to reports from consumers of coffee and other caffeinated products, caffeine withdrawal is often characterized by a headache, fatigue, feeling less alert, less energetic and experiencing difficulty concentrating.  Caffeine withdrawal is at its worst between 24 to 48 hours and lasts up to a week.

    Researchers from the University of Vermont College of Medicine and Johns Hopkins School of Medicine sought to investigate the biological mechanisms of caffeine withdrawal in a paper published recently in the online edition of the scientific journal Psychopharmacology. They looked at brain electrical activity and blood flow during caffeine withdrawal to examine what was taking place physiologically during acute caffeine abstinence, including the likely mechanism underlying the common 'caffeine withdrawal headache.'

    The group examined caffeine’s effects in a double-blind study, which involved the administration of caffeine and placebo capsules. Each participant’s response to the caffeine or placebo was measured using three different measures — brain electrical activity via electroencephalogram (EEG); blood flow velocity in the brain via ultrasound; and participants’ self-reports of subjective effects via questionnaires. 

    The team demonstrated that stopping daily caffeine consumption produces changes in cerebral blood flow velocity and quantitative EEG that are likely related to the classic caffeine withdrawal symptoms of headache, drowsiness and decreased alertness. More specifically, acute caffeine abstinence increased brain blood flow, an effect that may account for commonly reported withdrawal headaches.

    Acute caffeine abstinence also produced changes in EEG (increased theta rhythm) that has previously been linked to the common withdrawal symptom of fatigue. Consistent with this, volunteers reported increases in measures of “tired,” “fatigue,” “sluggish” and “weary.” Overall, these findings provide the most rigorous demonstration to date of physiological effects of caffeine withdrawal. 

    how caffeine wakes you up

    The researchers also discovered a provocative and somewhat unexpected finding — that there were no net benefits associated with chronic caffeine administration. 

    “In addition to looking at caffeine withdrawal, this rigorous design also permitted comparison of chronic caffeine maintenance with chronic placebo maintenance, which provides unique information about the extent to which there are net beneficial effects of daily caffeine administration,” said Stacey Sigmon, Ph.D., research associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont and first author on the study. “In contrast to what most of us coffee lovers would think, our study showed no difference between when the participant was maintained on chronic placebo and when the participant was stabilized on chronic caffeine administration. What this means is that consuming caffeine regularly does not appear to produce any net beneficial effects, based on the measures we examined.” 

    Co-authors on the study, which was a collaboration between Sigmon and Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, include Griffiths, as well as Ronald Herning, Warren Better and Jean Cadet of the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Molecular Neuropsychiatry section.


    What this means is that consuming caffeine regularly does not appear to produce any net beneficial effects, based on the measures we examined.” 
    Did they measure sanity? The daunting task of getting myself and my fourth-grader out the door (complete with lunches, homework or laptop, pants, etc.) in the morning would push me over the edge, if I couldn't enjoy just a few minutes of coffee bliss in the morning. 
    It's not about the alertness, about waking up, or about having energy to get through the day. Coffee is about sanity.
    You'd like our hut today.  We throw an annual fundraiser here for leukemia/lymphoma research and bring in casino equipment (craps table, roulette wheel, etc.) and a lot of businesses donate stuff, one of them being a coffee house with those huge vats and a nozzle.    Since we were up late cleaning and my 4 year old decided he needed to wake up at 5 I pretty much just stuck my mouth on the spigot.

    So it was somewhat about sanity, mostly it was about staying awake until Kim got up so the kids would destroy this expensive equipment on her watch,
     I pretty much just stuck my mouth on the spigot.
    I'm pretty sure that at 5 AM I myself would destroy any surrounding expensive equipment unless there a constant infusion of coffee.
    I had a friend that was addicted to heroin that expressed the same concerns, she would feel really bad if she didn´t get her fix.

    So no overall cognitive benefits, & slight headace/fatigue upon withdrawal. That's really not too bad. A coffee-holic myself, I find this pretty satisfying. The day they find long-term negative effects from coffee drinking, I'll think twice.

    Gerhard Adam
    "What this means is that consuming caffeine regularly does not appear to produce any net beneficial effects, based on the measures we examined"

    Wow.  Given the tendency for everything being examined as being either responsible for cancer, heart disease, or a general decline in health ... this statement practically makes coffee a health drink.  Yahoo !!!
    Mundus vult decipi
    That about some up the state of journalism about medical research.
    Gerhard Adam
    ...apologies to the tea and soft drink crowd for showing my bias.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Their definition of net benefit differs from mine.

    Mine is - Waking up quickly enough, and sufficiently, in order to commute to work to arrive on time, and jump right into my day.

    Sans coffee, I would be late every day, and take quite a while to get started.

    Need stronger arguments to get me to stop drinking it. There's also the taste - Drinking a glass of water in the morning doesn't quite have the same appeal as a steaming aromatic cup of coffee.

    Dour findings, very dour. What do our researchers drink?

    There's also the taste
    That's the #1 argument for coffee in my book - the taste and the aroma.
    Nothing kick starts a day like a caffeinated power dump.
    End of story.

    Everyone else was trying to be all highbrow and scientific and this guy sat squarely on the most important issue; I know I was moved.
    Hahaha, too true!

    People tell me I need fiber in my diet, I just point them at my coffee cup.

    Hahaha, too true!

    Woops....stupid captcha

    I have a real problem with the conclusion of this study. From articles I've seen online, it doesn't look like they were studying net benefits, just withdrawal symptoms. So noting that 'net benefits' were not apparent doesn't make sense. It's like going to the zoo looking for giraffes and then saying you didn't see any elephants when you leave. If you look at various studies, such as you'll note that caffeine has both benefits and drawbacks. It increases total cholesteral and homosysteine, constricts arteries, and can cause irregular heartbeat -- all things bad if you are at risk for a heart attack already. On the other hand, it can increase physical performance and cognitive function, lower rates of gallstones or liver disease, and decrease the risk for Parkinson's. I'd really like to see the original study for myself.


    I'm a practitioner, not a scientist, but I'd like to hear from the experts about the results I'm seeing with caffeine addiction and breaking the cycle.

    I've helped a lot of men and women over the years to break the cycle of caffeine addiction and withdrawal. After using acupressure for their craving and addiction to coffee (or tea or cola, etc.) they were able to go without the following morning and experienced no withdrawal symptoms. This outcome had never happened before their session.

    One example was a patient that had anxiety due to her 6 espresso / day habit. She wanted to quit and be able to have it or not have it, but not be compelled. She was not able to do this on her own, and the baristas knew her drink order as she arrived. After her session, she didn't want the drink that she "had to have" before her session and never experienced any withdrawal symptoms of headache, craving, fatigue, etc."

    This is a typical and expected outcome with the method I use. If patients stop drinking caffeine without the acupressure, they have all the classic withdrawal symptoms.

    I'm curious to know if any other practitioners or scientists have had similar findings in helping break the addictive cycle or prevent withdrawal symptoms for men and women.

    Thank you,

    Kara Sorensen, MS, LAc