How to Get Caffeine Out of Your Body
Sad because you've filled your body with delicious poison? Want to avoid a 13th trip to the bathroom? Learn the symptoms of caffeine overdose, the effects, and how to come down from too much caffeine.
Image by Simone Becchetti
In the Futurama episode "Three Hundred Big Boys," Fry drinks so much coffee he literally stops time. His caffeine jitters turn him into The Flash, basically, and he's able to save his friends from a fire. My caffeine-induced superpowers are more mundane: jitters, anxiety, and nausea to name a few. If I were to stop time, it would only be so I could go to the bathroom for the eighth time undetected. If anything, I'd want to speed time up—to when this caffeine overdose was over.
Can anything actually speed up your body's caffeine processing?
I asked my barista buddies and habitual coffee fiends if they had any tricks for combating the jitters. Then I ran those strategies by two toxicology experts: Alexander Garrard, the clinical managing director of the Washington Poison Center, and Ashley Webb, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center and a board-certified clinical toxicologist.
Many of my barista friends recommended chuggin' all the water that is humanly available, and intuitively it makes sense. You drank poison like a crazed java junkie, and now your blood is full of it. Dilute the poison with copious amounts of water. Unfortunately, that's not how it works.
Caffeine is fat-soluble, which helps it move through your body incredibly quickly. By the time you are feeling the ill effects of caffeine, it's already too late for water to help. "Drinking water is not going to dilute the caffeine in your body," says Webb, because "you're worried about the effects on a cellular level."
That isn't to say drinking water won't help with some of the symptoms of caffeine intoxication and overdose. (Some of these symptoms include: jitters, headache, diarrhea, nausea, chest pains, irregular or heart palpitations, and dizziness.)
Caffeine dilates the urethra, so frequent urination may leave you dehydrated. Water will help with that, but Garrard urges you not to overdo it: "Sometimes," he says, "people go overboard, and drink too much water, which can lead to seizures." What a world.
Baristas recommended different foods to counteract caffeine. One pushed protein; another recommended shots of juiced ginger. "If you have caffeine on an empty stomach, you might feel better after eating," says Webb. Other than that, food isn't going to do anything more than water. "Crackers and ginger ale are options if you're nauseous," says Garrard. "We call it symptomatic care. You're treating symptoms but not the caffeine itself." If your nausea is severe, though, it's another symptom of caffeine intoxication, a less severe form of caffeine overdose. "It could be a harbinger of worse things to come," says Garrard. Take that as a warning, you flat white floozies.
Two of my coffee aficionados swore by L-theanine, an amino acid found in tea. Theanine has been found to produce a calming effect on the mind and is frequently paired with caffeine as a study aid. A 2007 study found that theanine reduced people's stress responses, including their heart rate. A similar study, done in 2012, found that theanine helped control blood pressure during a stress test.
But overcaffeination is not a panic attack. They feel similar, but they are not caused by the same chemical reactions in your body. Increased heart rate due to stress is caused by the hormone epinephrine. Increased heart rate when you overcaffeinate is caused by the blocking of a different hormone, adenosine. "The idea that we might be able to neutralize a drug with another drug is like alchemy," says Garrard. "Very rarely does it work."
Besides, if you're to the heart palpitation stage, it's probably time to get professional medical attention, you mocha monster. "If you feel like your heart is racing, you may want to call [poison control]," says Garrard.
Does exercise counteract caffeine?
Caffeine is metabolized; therefore, speeding up your metabolism with exercise should ramp up the process, right? Unfortunately, no. "Caffeine is metabolized by enzymes in the liver," says Garrard. "Exercise isn't going to speed up the liver. You may feel like you're getting rid of the energy, but the caffeine is still there."
In addition, exercise increases the heart rate, which is a symptom of caffeine overdose. According to Garrard, athletes who use caffeine before exercise are at risk for heart palpitations or even heart attacks.
Mixing drugs or alcohol with caffeine
Take a downer to counteract an upper? "I don't recommend it," says Garrard. "We don't have a lot of data for drug interactions with marijuana. You don't know how it's going to interact." According to Garrard, there is some evidence that smoking pot can speed up the liver's metabolizing of caffeine, but there isn't enough data to recommend it as a therapeutic option. Furthermore, marijuana can also increase blood pressure. This would exacerbate the symptoms of overcaffeination, "especially when you get to the high concentration hash oils, with 70 to 80 percent THC," says Garrard.
Unfortunately, we have a lot of real-world anecdotal data about what happens when alcohol and caffeine interact. The company that makes Four Loko stopped caffeinating it in 2014 after the beverage was linked to several deaths. "You think you're more alert than you are, because of the caffeine," says Garrard, "which led to people getting behind the wheel when they shouldn't have."
Personally speaking, every time I have tried to counteract coffee jitters with alcohol, it's felt like there's a Pokemon gym in my brain where Team Anxiety and Team Sleepy are battling.
How to really get caffeine out of your system?
There is only one surefire way to shorten caffeine's half-life in your body, and it's to up the production of the CYP1A2 enzyme. A study published in the Oxford Journal of Carcinogenesis found that a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, etc.) increased production of CYP1A2. Conversely, a diet heavy in apiaceous vegetables (carrots, celery, dill, etc.) reduced CYP1A2. Unfortunately, for someone hoping to immediately treat coffee jitters by chowing down on some cauliflower, digestion doesn't work that way. "Even if broccoli can affect enzyme production, you still have to go through the process of it breaking down and absorbing the food," says Webb. "That could take at least eight hours."
So if you're prone to overcaffeination, eat some broccoli now to prevent tweaking later, you goddamned good-for-nothing latte lush.