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" ....caffeine is routinely used to induce panic attacks
in clinical experiments. When given caffeine doses of
the equivalent of that in 4 - 5 cups of coffee, nearly half
of panic disorder patients, experienced a reaction that
was indistinguishable from a spontaneous panic attack."

Caffeine is a potent chemical with psychoactive effects that our body has absolutely no requirement for. Research has indicated that caffeine can interfere with our brain chemistry and therefore can be a factor in contributing to exacerbating stress, anxiety, panic, depression and insomnia. Caffeine stimulates the release of excess stress hormones via its stimulant effects on the adrenal glands. it stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin which lowers blood sugar so the body has to compensate by releasing stress hormones which cause the body to release energy, fat and glucose reserves to stabilize blood sugar levels.

Some people are more sensitive to caffeine's effects than others so their tolerance for caffeine can be far less than other people. Even small amounts of caffeine found in decaffeinated versions of tea and coffee can cause them problems. Research has shown people prone to stress and anxiety tend to be especially sensitive to the effects of caffeine, removing caffeine from the diet can be a great help in relieving stress, anxiety, depression and related problems.

Caffeine can exacerbate or even cause stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia because it interferes with a tranquilizing neurotransmitter chemical in the brain called adenosine. This is the chemical which turns down our anxiety levels - it's our body's version of a tranquiliser. Caffeine docks into a receptor for adenosine and regular use of caffeine is enough to produce anxiety and depression in susceptible individuals.

Research has indicated that caffeine increases the secretion of stress hormones like adrenaline, so if you are already secreting higher stress hormones, caffeine will boost it even higher and exacerbate stress/anxiety, depression even further than it already is. By eventually cutting caffeine you will lower your stress hormone levels and therefore reduce stress, anxiety and depression.


Clinical Psychologists in the USA have carried out research which indicates that caffeine can be a factor in causing or exacerbating depression and that on removal of caffeine from the diet, depression lifts, and on re-introducing it to the diet again, depression worsens. Caffeine can have an anti-depressant action in small amounts but can have a depressive effect in larger amounts. Caffeine users report significantly higher depression scores when compared to non-users. The higher the total caffeine intake, the more likely the subjects were to suffer from depression. The researchers were unable to identify a clear cut dosage level which produced symptoms.

Vitamin B6 is one vitamin involved in the manufacture of serotonin (this chemical is low in people with anxiety and depression). Caffeine depletes the body of vitamin B6, this may be another route where caffeine is involved in depression.


Dr James Lee, a psychiatrist at Duke University, North Carolina in the USA, said of caffeine and anxiety, "Moderate caffeine consumption makes a person react like he/she is having a very stressful day. If you combine the effects of real stress with the artificial boost in stress hormones that comes from caffeine then you have compounded the effects considerably." During his study the volunteers produced 32% more adrenaline, their blood pressure was raised and their heart rates were faster.

By avoiding caffeine you may reduce panic, palpitations etc, and be able to reduce medication or remove it altogether in some people, with you GP's help.


Caffeine has a diuretic action and causes nutrient depletion of several important nutrients vital for optimum psychological health, like vitamin B6. The tannin interferes with nutrient absorption of essential minerals including calcium, iron and magnesium and B group vitamins.


Caffeine is found in a variety of sources such as:

1. Tea
2. Coffee
3. Chocolate
4. Cola
5. Certain over-the-counter medications


Sudden withdrawl from caffeine can cause uncomfortable side effects like headaches. So it is wise to gradually reduce our caffeine intake over a number of weeks. You can substitute caffeinated beverages for non-caffeinated versions found in local health food shops.

Caffeine can cause unpleasant symptoms and can aggravate many health problems such as - Irritability, Insomnia, Depression, Anxiety, Osteoporosis, Migraine, Gastritis, Panic, Reduced Fertility, Palpitations, Diabetes, PMS, Hiatus Hernia, Tinnitus, Indigestion, Anaemia, Fatigue, Increased Heart Rate, Raised Blood Pressure, Increased Stress, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, etc.

So by reducing and eventually eliminating caffeine from our diet we can help to reduce our stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia problems, and increase our energy levels.


1. Bruce M.S. et al (1989) Caffeine Abstension in the Management of Anxiety Disorders, Psychol. Med. 19 pp 211 - 214, mentioned in Snaith P. (1991) Clinical Neurosis, 2nd edition, Oxford Medical Publications.

2. Conduit E. (1995) The Body under Stress, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

3. James J. (1997) Understanding Caffeine, Sage Publishers.

4. Keer D. et al, Ann. Internal. Med (1993) 119(8) pp 799 - 804, mentioned in Green Files, Vol 7, issue 4, December 1993.

5. McIntyre A. (1994) The Complete Womans Herbal, Gaia Publishers.

6. Murray M. (1995) Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia, Prima Publishing.

7. O'Hara V. (1995) Wellness at Work, New Harbinger inc.

8. Snaith P. (1991) Clinical Neurosis, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press.