Why am I suddenly more sensitive to caffeine?
August 27, 2011 4:40 AM   Subscribe

I have noticed over the last week that my sensitivity to caffeine seems to have dramatically increased. Normally, drinking coffee would have no major effects except making me slightly more awake / alert you would expect. But over the last fortnight, it seems that even drinking even a single cup of coffee has become quite unpleasant. 45 minutes later i will feel dramatically over-energised and find concentration difficult and drinking a cup of coffee after dinner at 7.30 will leave me unable to get to sleep until 1:30 or 2am. Is this a health issue? Is it likely that my body will adapt back over time (I do like the taste of coffee and would like to keep drinking it if possible) or should I switch to decaf coffee or a lower caffeinated drink like tea?

As its summer, i had certainly been drinking less coffee recently than usual - but I have never been a heavy coffee drinker anyway (generally i would drink at most two cups in a day) and I am struggling to understand why caffeine seems suddenly to be so unpleasant to me. I have been under stress in my academic life recently as well and wondered if either the heat of summer or the stress of work might be contributing to it, but the change is so dramatic that I am skeptical about my explanations. Is there a possible medical reason for this change? Is it something I should be seeing my GP about? I have not noticed any other health changes. YANMD I know, but any helpful advice / information appreciated
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Both my husband and I have noticed that we are more sensitive to caffeine (and alcohol) when we have been exercising a lot and are at our fittest. Any chance that is the case for you? If so, the solution is probably to eat more doughnuts and stop working out :)

Another possible explanation, given that it is summer, is that you are more dehydrated than usual. I find that makes coffee affect me faster too, though I don't know why.
posted by lollusc at 4:51 AM on August 27, 2011

Have you changed your diet or eating habits? Perhaps you've been eating less regularly, or eating more sugars and simple starches? For me, the effects of caffeine seem to be exaggerated when I'm not eating well.
posted by jon1270 at 5:47 AM on August 27, 2011

Medically, I have no clues to offer. However, I would simply listen to your body. If coffee is tweaking you out, you should stop drinking it. I quit drinking coffee in February of this year, and I drink tea/chai now and it has been a change for the better. For the first two or three weeks I missed the zip it provided in the morning but I've now grown accustomed to the reduced levels of caffeine. I have one cup of tea in the morning and occasionally one cup after lunch.

The real payoff I've found is in the afternoons, I used to have a dip in energy around 3 or 4 that I would try to counteract with coffee. Now I don't really get affected that way because I'm no longer crashing from the coffee in the morning.

Any chance that your source of coffee has changed? The levels of caffeine can be very different (see here) based on type and brewing method.
posted by jeremias at 5:49 AM on August 27, 2011

Did you overdo it recently? I got severely over caffeinated about 3 months ago (downed a couple of doubles I thought were watery singles) and it gave me spins that lasted two days. I haven't been able to comfortably handle a single espresso since and have switched to decaf. I'm closing in on 50, so that could be a factor as well.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:55 AM on August 27, 2011

How old are you? Lots of things have started to affect me differently since I turned 30.
posted by something something at 6:34 AM on August 27, 2011

Is there a possible medical reason for this change?

Yes. IANAD so I don't know the proper medical terminology, but down here at street level we call it 'getting old.'
posted by Rash at 7:43 AM on August 27, 2011

Response by poster: Well, I'm in my early/mid-20's so I consider the age thing unlikely - but I have recently started (last month) exercising significantly more than I had before - so that is definitely a possible contributing factor and one that I had not considered.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 7:58 AM on August 27, 2011

Are you taking any medication or herbal suppliments that could be interacting with the caffeine?
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 8:25 AM on August 27, 2011

Could you be pregnant? Two of my friends reported coffee suddenly becoming unpleasant as one of the earliest signs they were pregnant.
posted by hydrobatidae at 9:25 AM on August 27, 2011

Could you be pregnant? Two of my friends reported coffee suddenly becoming unpleasant as one of the earliest signs they were pregnant.

This is what I thought too. Pregnancy changes your metabolism resulting in changes in how caffeine affects you. Pop Science-y reference
posted by fiercekitten at 10:32 AM on August 27, 2011

Try drinking half-caf coffee and see how that affects you, and drink water with it or right after. I frequently get half-caf because I get some of those symptoms after drinking coffee that you describe. Coffee worsens/speeds the onset of my reactive hypoglycemia, so coffee will make me crash in a hungry/faint way and make me feel mentally fuzzy as well as angry and sad. I try to drink my coffee with or right after a meal that doesn't include much sugar/carbs and has a good amount of protein and fiber, and I start drinking water immediately after. If I drink a coffee on it's own, say in late morning or early afternoon, I feel like total garbage soon after. I also try to drink it slowly, so I can tell if it's starting to make me feel crappy and can stop drinking it before I down the whole thing.
posted by imalaowai at 10:56 AM on August 27, 2011

Seconding the pregnancy possibility (if you are female). I drink coffee every day, except when I was pregnant, it made me ill.
posted by mermayd at 11:43 AM on August 27, 2011

Response by poster: Nope, afraid I am male - so pregnancy is even more unlikely than age as to be the culprit.

I think that the fact I have been doing a lot more cardio than I used to while starting from a low very low fitness level - combined with the other factors I mentioned in my question is probably the most likely explanation, drinking more water generally seems like a good plan, and I will try being more experimental about how much coffee I can drink aswell. Thanks everyone!
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 12:47 PM on August 27, 2011

May be off the wall, but another anecdote about altered response to caffeine.

I have a pretty serious caffeine habit, but a year and a half ago I had a weird episode where I was sick (felt like the flu, but nothing upper-respiratory) and simultaneously had *no* interest in caffeine--very atypical and made me really wonder whether something serious was up. Long story short, it turned out I was having some really bad liver problems. Since the liver is heavily involved in metabolizing caffeine I'm sure there was some connection to my weird caffeine response.

Now, I realize that's different than the effect you're describing, but you may want to give some thought to whether there's something else going on that might be tweaking your liver. Are you taking any new meds? Drinking more or less alcohol? One cup of coffee is usually not enough to totally wire someone. I'm a biochemist by training and it makes me wonder whether something is interfering with the mechanisms that degrade caffeine in your body. (The wikipedia entry on caffeine hits on metabolism in the liver a few times, for further pondering.)

IANAD, or at least not the MD kind of D, so this is total speculation. It's likely nothing, but if it's something really drastic and worrisome, why not just talk to your doc about it?
posted by Sublimity at 1:13 PM on August 27, 2011

Sublimity, how did you determine it was a liver problem? Did your physician just "know" or was there some kind of a test for that?
posted by Shelf at 6:41 PM on August 27, 2011

how did you determine it was a liver problem

I think Sublimity's point was that caffeine is typically broken down by the liver, so anything that interferes with that breakdown could make a person experience the effects of caffeine more strongly.

Another Fine Product, if you recently started any new medications, that would be worth looking into. Birth control pills, some anti-arrythmia drugs (for the heart), and some kinds of antacids for the stomach are known to inhibit the breakdown of caffeine.
posted by vytae at 7:42 AM on August 29, 2011

Shelf, routine bloodwork panels check for presence of liver enzymes (indicating breakdown of liver tissue). Mine were elevated and that got us on the right track. But again, I was clearly ill and something clearly was up. The OP is not apparently ill, but the liver is ground zero for drug interaction stuff. So as vytae says, the larger suggestion was to think about anything else that might be affecting liver function and, as a by-product, caffeine metabolism.
posted by Sublimity at 11:15 AM on August 29, 2011

Response by poster: Hi all as an addendum, after a few weeks my caffeine sensitivity seemed to have drifted back to normal on its own - thanks for all the varied and interesting possibilities though - apart from an increase in cardio exercise I am not sure what caused this, but its was good fun / chastening learning that I am probably an ageing pregnant 24 year old man
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:49 PM on September 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

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