Caffeine Withdrawal

Eric Bakker N.D.May 18, 2022

Caffeine withdrawal can happen to anyone who consumes caffeine frequently and then abruptly stops. Headaches, low energy, weariness, irritability, anxiety, poor focus, depressed mood, nausea, feeling hot and cold and tremors are all common and not so symptoms that can last anywhere from two to nine days.

Eric Bakker Naturopath » Recipes » Caffeine Withdrawal

Ever Considered Caffeine Withdrawal?

When I engage patients in a detox program, I like them to gradually cut out ALL caffeine over a one week period, and this includes all tea, coffee and chocolate. It is my belief that anyone with a regular caffeine habit intake should truly consider withdrawing from their habit until they can reach a state of occasional use and enjoyment. For caffeine detoxification, it is important to support yourself nutritionally while eliminating or reduce your intake. If you are clearly addicted to caffeine products or if you become pregnant, I feel that it is in your best interests to quit totally for some time. Breaking the caffeine habit by tapering down or going cold turkey will be better handled with a great diet and supporting your adrenal (stress) glands. Take a good quality B Vitamin Complex, it will make all the difference in the world here. You will have more energy as you “come down” and won’t feel like grabbing something sweet to eat or get into that “bitchy” state that many people do if they simply quit. I can still recall a man I saw several years ago who had one of those “Café Bars” in his kitchen. He was drinking more than 30 cups (styrofoam) of coffee each day, and it was exceedingly difficult for him to “cut back” to ten cups a day.

The major reason people drink coffee is for a caffeine boost. Many people swear they can’t get going in the morning without a cup of coffee – or several. They feel physically tired and mentally foggy without their morning brew. Most regular coffee drinkers argue their habit isn’t doing them any harm – until they come off and then realise how hooked they were!
When I went to Seattle on a medical conference in 2003 I noticed how much coffee American people drink, it was truly amazing. It was my first experience of seeing people drive around in their cars with large coffee mounts mounted to the dashboard. A doctor friend invited me for a coffee at a Starbucks coffee shop and bought me a “Double Expresso Americano”, I didn’t sleep for two whole nights and I was very annoyed at myself as I stared at the ceiling knowing that it was that one (mega) strong cup of coffee that was keeping my mind racing for more than 48 hours. I don’t drink coffee anymore and consume very little conventional tea- so have become rather sensitive to its effects. Do you have any kind of sleeping issue and drink coffee, even if it is only one cup per day? My recommendations are for you to STOP all caffeine for a few weeks before you take anything to help you go to sleep. Yes, even as little as 50mg per day can affect the quality of your sleep. And the stronger the withdrawal on that one or two cups daily, the more you will have developed a physical dependence on caffeine and the more likely it is tied up with your sleeping issues. Here are some of the likely withdrawal symptoms you may experience when you cut back and stop, but relax, they pass within 2 to 3 days:

Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms

  • headache
  • constipation
  • runny nose
  • craving
  • anxiety
  • nausea
  • irritability
  • nervousness
  • vomiting
  • insomnia
  • shakiness
  • cramps
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • ringing in the ears
  • depression
  • drowsiness
  • feeling hot and cold
  • apathy
  • inability to concentrate
  • fast heart beating

Caffeine Detox Hints and Tips

An alkaline diet is very helpful during caffeine detoxification, coffee in particular is quite acid forming and to compensate, your body has to alkalise itself to counter the acidity. It will do so by releasing tiny amounts of calcium into the blood, and this is one of the reasons those who drink lots of coffee end up potentially with osteoporosis and kidney stones. Fruits can be used as snacks; vegetable salads, soups, greens, seaweed, corn, some whole grains, sprout, and nuts and seeds are the basis of this high-nutrient diet. A decrease in acid foods, such as meats, sugar (avoiding sugar may really help minimise caffeine withdrawal), and refined white flours, and avoiding overuse of baked goods, even whole grain products are all good ideas. Drinking at least six glasses of good water and sipping on some mineral waters can help replace the coffee habit. Some baking soda in water will help make you more alkaline and certainly help in reducing withdrawal symptoms.

Vitamin C supplementation also helps during withdrawal and supports the adrenal glands. As an anti-stress program, between 3 – 6000 milligrammes or more of vitamin C can be taken over the course of the day (preferably in a powdered and buffered form), along with certain minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, and zinc, all of which often need to be supplemented. B complex vitamins with extra Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid -250 mg. four times daily) along with 500 mg. of vitamin C every two hours can be very helpful in acute withdrawal.
With general coffee usage, we need to support the commonly depleted nutrients, remember – caffeine is a diuretic and you can pass out a considerable amount of vitamins and minerals particularly. These include the B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and zinc, iron, calcium, and the trace minerals. Sometimes additional amino acids are helpful in balancing your energy level during use or withdrawal from caffeine, therefore eat fish eggs and lean red meats. Water intake and additional fibre, even on top of a high-fibre diet, will help support the bowel function quite a bit, which can slow down during caffeine withdrawal. I have often heard patients tell me that their morning cup helps them go to the toilet, and when they cut back on coffee they are finding it hard to go. Is this you? Then eat more fruit and vegetables.

How Long Does Caffeine Withdrawal Last?

For caffeine detoxification, it is definitely easier to detox over a week or two gradually to avoid significant headaches and other symptoms, although I have found that there are many regular caffeine addicts who can stop fairly easily without too many problems. Drinking grain-coffee blends, diluted or smaller amounts of regular coffee, or decaffeinated coffee is a good way to reduce caffeine intake. Some people can substitute tea, which has less caffeine, and taper off of that more easily. If you do get a caffeine withdrawal headache, it shouldn’t last any more than a few days.

Caffeine Withdrawal Headache

If headaches occur during detoxification, and this is the most common withdrawal symptom, some mild pain relievers can be used for a few days, but not much longer!

Make sure you have increased your water intake, something I commonly see lacking in coffee drinkers. Your liver is responsible for caffeine detoxification, and if you start taking some St Mary’s Thistle (after your headache phase) you will clear the caffeine rapidly from your system. Taking this herb too soon after you quit may enable you develop a rather nasty headache, I have experienced this with a few patients years ago and now recommend liver herbs after you have quit caffeine for at least three days to be safe.

As we move away from coffee and caffeine beverages, there are a number of herbal substitutes that can be both stimulating and refreshing. The roasted herbal roots, including barley, chicory, and dandelion, are most common. These grain “coffees,” are becoming very popular among former coffee drinkers. Ginseng root tea is preferred by some, and I recommend this particularly for older folk, especially men,  and not those with blood pressure issues. A tea I particularly like is liquorice tea, although again we don’t recommend this for those with high blood pressure.  Herbal teas can be made from lemon grass, peppermint, ginger root, red clover, and comfrey can also be very energising. Many patients have told me over the years that they don’t like “flowery herb teas” but have slowly converted over to drinking more green tea and then experimented with a whole range of different teas until finally settling on a few brands they really enjoy. The range and taste options are incredible!

Bad Headaches

Here’s a quick summary of what to do to get rid of caffeine over a twelve-week period with minimal pain. Caffeine withdrawal headaches can be particularly debilitating and really drive you crazy. After seeing many patients undergoing caffeine withdrawal, I have noticed often that these kinds of headaches are a sharp pain (nasty) and many involve the vertex (top of head) or are around or behind the eyes. They last from one to ten days on average, but if yours lasts longer then try this trick. Go BACK onto coffee (or tea) straight away to the same level of consumption you had before, and withdraw caffeine sources over a 12 week period – SLOWLY.

When you do this, increase water intake by 8 glasses a day – and here’s the trick – take an herbal liver tablet or capsule at the rate of one a day for the first week, one tablet twice daily (with foods, always)for the second week. For the 3rd week, take 3 a day, and step this up week by week til you take a max of 6/day. This may take from 3 – 6 weeks.

Then reduce caffeine sources at the rate of about 10 – 20 % a week. After 3 months you should be able to come off ALL caffeine and have NO headaches as a result.

The trick is to ease up on junk foods, fried & fatty foods during this period. You can stop caffeine without pain. Go slow and clear the liver. I’ve seen this technique work for most who try it.

Herbal Caffeine Substitutes

  • Roasted barley tea
  • Fruit teas
  • Ginseng root tea
  • Chicory root tea
  • Celestial Seasonings tea
  • Ginger root tea
  • Dandelion root tea
  • Liquorice tea
  • Rooibos tea
  • Caro
  • Red clover tea
  • Peppermint tea
  • Chai teas
  • Miso broth
  • Lemon grass


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