Coffee is a remedy that helps us deal with the fast everyday life. Sometimes, it helps you focus, feel more energetic, or at least enables you to relax and have a moment for yourself. However, caffeine is a substance that can do the opposite when consumed in high amounts, causing anxiety and panic. So, if it’s the caffeine causing it, can decaf coffee cause anxiety?
Due to very low caffeine content, decaf coffee can’t cause anxiety. However, sensitive individuals can experience anxiety-like symptoms, such as jitteriness, shaking, etc. Also, other substances in decaf coffee can cause different problems, such as heart conditions, increased acidity, etc.
Also, you can experience anxiety symptoms linked to drinking decaf coffee, but it’s not a physiological source of those symptoms. For instance, if you drink coffee before work and work makes you anxious, you might subconsciously link that feeling with drinking decaf coffee.
If you aren’t sure whether you should switch from regular to decaf, you’re in the right place to find out. First, let’s break down everything from facts to myths about decaf coffee:
- How it’s made.
- How it differs from regular coffee.
- What side effects it has, and eventually, which one you should choose.
How Is Decaf Coffee Made?
If you ever tried decaf coffee, you’ll notice that there’s no distinguishable difference in taste from regular coffee. I always thought caffeine was responsible for the specific taste of coffee, but as it turns out, it plays virtually no role in it. While pure caffeine is very bitter, it’s so diluted in coffee that it’s tasteless.
That means that all the other substances found in a coffee bean remain intact in the decaffeination process, making me wonder how decaf is even made. There are several different methods for making decaf coffee. Still, all of them include water, organic solvents, active carbon, or carbon dioxide.
The solvents are typically ethyl acetate, methylene chloride, etc. The process begins before roasting the beans. First, green coffee beans need to be moisturized and swollen. You can do it either by submerging them in water completely (which takes longer) or steaming them (works faster, but can reduce the quantity of other substances in the beans if not done correctly).
After the green beans swell from moisture, you can use several methods for the next step. The slowest but safest way to extricate caffeine out of the beans is with water. Caffeine slowly dissolves in the water from the beans, so only a tiny amount is left.
More commonly, solvents are used to speed up the process. Substances like ethyl acetate or dichloromethane extract the caffeine from the beans more thoroughly and quickly. However, if the solvents aren’t appropriately removed after the extraction, they can stay inside the beans and cause health risks when ingested.
Finally, the most frowned-upon method is using CO2. It’s the most effective method but has the most health risks while operating.
The final step of the process is drying the beans to their natural moisture level. After that, they can be processed the same way as regular, caffeinated beans (roasted and ground). Note that the process can never extract 100% of the caffeine from the beans.
You end up with a caffeine content between 0.05% and 5%, depending on the method and the type of beans used. For example, under European laws, roasted decaf beans need to contain 0.1% or less caffeine, while instant decaf needs to be under 0.3%.
That means that the decaffeination process reduces the caffeine level in the beans in the 97-99.9% range. If you are caffeine-intolerant, even decaf can cause some problems. However, the amount of caffeine in one cup is incomparable: 70-140 mg per cup in regular coffee, 1-7 mg in decaf.
Can Coffee Cause Anxiety?
If you follow the guideline definition of drugs – “a substance that has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced in the body” – caffeine is the most widespread drug in the world. Too much of any drug can cause serious problems, especially for susceptible individuals.
A ton of studies concluded that there’s a direct link between high caffeine consumption and anxiety symptoms. For example, one research found that coffee can cause anxiety-like symptoms, including faster heart rate, jitteriness, nervousness, shaking, gastrointestinal problems, etc.
How much caffeine is too much is highly dependable on the person, though. Some may experience these symptoms from only one cup of coffee, while some individuals may never experience them at all. Caffeine-induced anxiety will happen more often to individuals prone to social anxiety, panic disorders, etc.
An average person can ingest around 400 mg of caffeine a day (around for regular cups of coffee, depending on the coffee type) without feeling any anxiety-like symptoms. As I already stated, that number varies from person to person.
Also, if you’re addicted to caffeine and trying to reduce the intake or quit entirely, you can go into a caffeine withdrawal disorder. This is because your body needs caffeine to continue functioning normally. After all, it’s used to operate in specific conditions.
Caffeine blocks adenosine – a brain chemical that makes you feel tired – and stimulates the production of adrenaline – a hormone that increases energy. So if you consume coffee in high amounts regularly, your body will get accustomed to it and start producing more adenosine and adrenaline than usual.
If there’s no caffeine in your body to regulate it, as usual, you’ll develop withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration – all leading to anxiety. Therefore, too much caffeine can cause anxiety-like symptoms, but withdrawing it completely and abruptly can cause the same symptoms as well.
The withdrawal isn’t as severe as hard drugs (where abrupt withdrawal can lead to death). Still, it’s enough to cause a lot of discomfort, stress, and uneasiness.
Moderate coffee consumption won’t cause any anxiety-related symptoms for most people. Still, if you are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine, you should cut back on your daily intake. Your anxiety might not be related to coffee at all, but it could be enhanced due to caffeine.
It’s always a bright idea to find the root cause of the problem to solve it. Switching to decaf might help you reduce anxiety while helping with withdrawal symptoms, too, as decaf still has tiny amounts of caffeine in it.
Can Decaf Coffee Cause Anxiety?
So, you’ve made the switch from regular coffee to decaf, but you’re still experiencing anxiety? While it’s probable for super-sensitive individuals, your decaf almost certainly isn’t the culprit behind it.
The ingredient causing anxiety symptoms is caffeine, and the amount of caffeine found in decaf coffee is too low to cause those symptoms. Therefore, you would have to drink around ten times more decaf to experience the same drawbacks you did with regular coffee (jitteriness, jumpiness, etc.).
Most likely, your anxiety from drinking decaf isn’t physiological but rather psychological. For example, your brain might be linking the taste or the fragrance of the coffee with other anxiety-related influences, like sleepless nights, going to work, or PTSD.
Also, decaf coffee can serve as a trigger when combined with other influences. For instance, being in a stressful situation can make you falsely ascribe drinking decaf to your anxiety, while in reality, the problem is what’s causing your anxiety in the first place.
Furthermore, even the slightest amount of caffeine can cause these symptoms if it reacts to some substances in various medications. Therefore, if you’re taking a new medication, you should read if it can react with caffeine. Even if you’re drinking decaf, the two compounds combined can cause you to feel anxious.
So, what did we conclude? First, while there’s a minimal probability that decaf can cause anxiety, you would have to be extremely sensitive to caffeine, as caffeine is the only substance found in coffee known to cause anxiety-related symptoms.
Decaf is a great way to keep all the healthy benefits of coffee for your organism (like vitamin intake, better digestion, pure taste, etc.) while eliminating the unpleasant side effects of high caffeine consumption such as jitters, anxiety, etc.
Be that as it may, you should be careful about consuming too much decaf, just as you should be cautious with regular coffee. Decaf can have some side effects you probably aren’t aware of that can be far more dangerous than anxiety.
Decaf Coffee Side Effects You Didn’t Know of
If you don’t put too many sweeteners or unhealthy fats and additives into your coffee, it can be one of the healthiest beverages for your body. Especially if you switch to decaf – you’ll get rid of the side effects that caffeine can cause while keeping all those health benefits.
Although decaf can have other side effects you might not be aware of, they can get severe if you consume too much. Let’s take a look at all the good and bad side effects of decaf coffee. Most of them will relate to coffee in general, but numerous are specific solely for decaf.
Positive side effects of decaf coffee
Coffee is one of the best natural sources of antioxidants, and decaf coffee has right around the same amount of them as regular coffee. Unfortunately, the decaffeination process can reduce those levels by as much as 15%, but it usually makes no difference.
You need antioxidants to block free radicals in your body – reactive compounds known to cause oxidative damage, leading to heart diseases, type 2 diabetes, and even cancer. The antioxidants in coffee are mostly polyphenols. That might cause a problem for rare people with a genetic intolerance to these compounds, but it’s an infrequent occurrence.
That’s not the only benefit of decaf coffee, though. While you don’t get the caffeine-related benefits such as alertness, focus, energy, etc., you also don’t get the caffeine-related issues, such as anxiety, insomnia, etc. But, at the same time, you get all the other nutrients found in regular coffee.
Decaf coffee contains magnesium, potassium, and Vitamin B3, all of which are crucial for proper body function. If you drink 2-4 cups of decaf every day, you can satisfy at least half of the recommended daily intake of those nutrients. In addition, if you drink decaf moderately, it can vastly improve your overall well-being.
While studies are more thorough for regular coffee, decaf is linked with reduced liver enzyme levels, pointing at a protective effect on the liver. Coffee is also linked to reducing type 2 diabetes risks – up to a 7% reduction per cup.
Finally, regular coffee can cause acid reflux and heartburn – it happens a lot after years of daily coffee intake or after consuming too much coffee daily over a shorter period. But, again, caffeine is the main culprit behind this problem, so switching to decaf can reduce the symptoms – even end them altogether.
Negative side effects of decaf coffee
Remember how I told you the decaffeination process usually involves chemical solvents? Well, if not adequately treated after, traces of those chemicals can remain in your decaf coffee. Some of those solvents, such as methylene chloride, are used for paint thinners and nail polish. So you can see how that may pose a health risk if ingested, right?
Of course, decaf has to go through several tests before being cleared to put on shelves. Still, the risk of the chemicals entering your body is severe. The consequences include affecting the central nervous system, organ irritation, and severe cases, triggering rheumatoid arthritis and being carcinogenic.
However, the possibility of being harmed by those chemicals from decaf coffee is minimal. Still, there are other risks you need to be aware of. The most significant risk is raising the cholesterol levels in your organism.
The decaffeination process works better on beans that can take more moisture in. That’s why beans with a higher fat content are used to make decaf. Instead of arabica, the companies use robusta beans with a high level of diptenes – compounds that stimulate the production of fatty acids in your body.
Consuming them regularly and in high amounts can cause a significant rise in cholesterol, eventually leading to heart health problems.
Coffee (both regular and decaf) can interfere with nutrient absorption from food. As a result, you might have difficulty keeping them in your body, which can be problematic if you have a deficiency in iron, magnesium, or some other nutrient.
While there hasn’t been enough research to know for sure, there are indicators and links that tie decaf coffee with the reduction of bone density. Coffee, in general, can cause increased acidity in your digestive system, usually, if you drink too much every day. That leads to a lousy calcium balance in your system, and calcium is responsible for the strength of your bones.
Regular or Decaf: Which One Should You Choose?
Before you answer this question, ask yourself what’s the main reason why you’re drinking coffee. Is it because of the energy boost the caffeine gives you or any other reason? If the answer is energy, choose regular coffee. If it’s the taste, aroma, health benefits, or other reason you might have for drinking coffee, choose decaf.
Decaf has all the nutrients regular coffee has, including vitamins, healthy fats, etc. The only thing you don’t have is caffeine, so you won’t experience the same benefits as you would with regular coffee, including alertness, better focus, energy, etc. All other benefits – including the specific taste – will still be present if you choose decaf.
If you feel anxiety-like symptoms and drink a lot of coffee every day, try switching to decaf to see if the symptoms will continue. Be careful how you do it, though, because if your body is accustomed to a lot of caffeine, you could go into withdrawal if you cut it off abruptly and experience many discomforts.
How to Switch to Decaf Coffee?
If you consume a lot of caffeine every day, switching to decaf abruptly can cause bad withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, nausea, fatigue, etc. That’s why you should take steps when making the switch.
First, determine how much caffeine you intake every day. It’ll depend on the type of coffee you’re drinking and on the quantity. One cup is roughly 100 mg of caffeine, so go from there. If the answer is three or more cups a day, try replacing one cup with decaf. Slowly continue doing so until you’re entirely switched to decaf.
If you feel any withdrawal symptoms, try reducing the cup size first before changing to decaf. I’m a heavy coffee drinker, drinking around five cups a day. It became too much, and I needed to cut back.
Now that I drink two to three decafs and two to three regulars a day, I feel rejuvenated. The energy-boosting stayed, but I have no acid reflux and anxiety symptoms I once experienced.