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  • Writer's pictureJessica Frizzell, PA-C

Is Caffeine Helpful or Harmful to Individuals Living with a Rheumatic Disease?

Updated: Aug 15, 2022

Are you a regular coffee or tea drinker? Soda lover? Energy drink consumer?

What do all these beverages have in common?

They often contain caffeine!

Nearly 80% of all adults in the United States consume caffeine daily, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet, did you know that whether or not to consume caffeine is a controversial topic among autoimmune disease patients?

The question is … does caffeine help or hinder an individual living with an autoimmune disease?

Caffeine is considered a stimulant that impacts the central nervous system, which can result in increased brain activity.

Caffeine works by changing the chemical balance in your body. It can increase cortisol, dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and adrenaline levels, while also decreasing the effects of adenosine in your brain, the chemical responsible for making you feel sleepy.

This means consuming caffeine will typically influence your mood or behavior. You might feel more energetic from a boost of physical energy. You could feel more alert and less tired. Some people even report that they can focus better and concentrate more after consuming caffeine.

Caffeine does have some downfalls, though. Caffeine is known to lead to headaches, dizziness, restlessness, sleeplessness, shakiness, an abnormal heart rate, increased anxiety, and irritability.

The effects of caffeine are short-lived, which often means people tend to consume more and more to achieve the same results. When a person’s body becomes dependent on caffeine, the lack of caffeine can trigger all those negative symptoms and more. Caffeine dependency and caffeine withdrawals go hand-in-hand.

Researchers have studied caffeine consumption for decades to answer questions such as how much is too much caffeine or if consuming caffeine is safe during pregnancy. While there is not an overwhelming amount of research looking into whether caffeine is problesome for individuals living with an autoimmune disease, one report states:

“While some studies reported conflicting results, general trends have been identified. Coffee consumption seems to increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) …

Concerning other autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, psoriasis, primary biliary cholangitis and Crohn's disease, no significant association was found …

In other studies, coffee consumption was shown to influence disease course and management options. Coffee intake led to a decrease in insulin sensitivity in T1DM, in methotrexate efficacy in RA, and in levothyroxine absorption in Hashimoto's disease …

Data on certain autoimmune diseases like systemic sclerosis, Sjögren's syndrome, and Behçet's disease, among others, are lacking in the existent literature.”

Another study states:

“Caffeine at high doses showed a robust down regulatory effect on cytokine activity and genes related to several autoimmune diseases including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.”

As you can see, whether or not rheumatic patients should avoid or consume caffeine has yet to be fully discovered. Simply put, it isn’t clear if there is a definitive correlation between caffeine consumption and autoimmune diseases.

What IS safe to conclude is that researchers have studied for many years the effects of caffeine on the physical body and mental wellbeing of individuals.

From this, you can know that it is important to be smart about your caffeine consumption. If you decide caffeine is okay for you, it would be wise to set limits - to be aware of the amount and frequency of your caffeine consumption.

Caffeine can exacerbate the existing conditions that you might already experience on a daily basis as a rheumatic patient. Here’s a list of a few aspects of caffeine consumption you should consider before overindulging:

SLEEP - When managing a rheumatic disease, quality sleep can be hard to come by. Rheumatic patients desperately need sleep to manage their symptoms, and caffeine can cause insomnia.

HEART - Caffeine increases your heart rate. Since some rheumatic diseases can predispose a person to developing cardiovascular diseases, the additional strain on your heart could be concerning.

UPSET STOMACH - Caffeine can promote the release of stomach acids. Many rheumatic patients suffer from GI distress, and caffeine may add to that.

PAIN - Caffeine withdrawals can lead to muscle pain, spasms, or cramping. The last thing many rheumatic patients want to deal with is additional pain.

BRAIN FOG - When the caffeine you consume wears off, you could be stuck with feeling foggy and tired. This unfortunate consequence can be debilitating to rheumatic patients that already experience brain fog or feeling like they can’t concentrate.

All in all … while there is no direct science pointing to whether you should cut out caffeine entirely, be mindful of how it makes you feel.

Caffeine consumption might be alright for you, and no caffeine whatsoever could be the answer for another.

It might even be a matter of trial and error. Learn to recognize how caffeine impacts your body and mind, and go from there.

Living with a rheumatic disease is about discovering what is best for YOU!

Here at Paducah Rheumatology, we are dedicated to improving the lives of our patients!

Our goal is to help you feel your best by managing your rheumatic disease with an individualized treatment plan and personalized care.

We are accepting new patients and would love to see you!

First, send your required physician referral our way and then give us a call at 270-408-6100 to schedule an appointment.

We look forward to helping you feel your best!

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