How to Avoid Coffee Withdrawal Headaches

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mbg senior sustainability Editor

By Dr.lauryn

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Are you suffering from coffee withdrawal headaches? Did you know that headaches from NOT drinking coffee can be a sign that your body is imbalanced inside? 

The  Common Reasons Behind Coffee Withdrawal Headaches.

These include the following: 

  1. Dehydration
  2. Youre a Slow Metabolizer of Caffeine
  3. You Have a Congested Liver/Gallbladder
  4. Protein/Amino Acid Deficiency or Malabsorption
  5. Your Cortisol is Going Crazy

Reason #1: You’re Dehydrated

Your brain is composed of 70% water. Coffee is a natural diuretic—meaning it dehydrates you, as well as strips your body of minerals.

a cup of coffee on top of a table coffee withdrawal headaches

When you cut the coffee, but don’t replace fluids with water, you are STILL right where you started: dehydrated. Bring on the coffee withdrawal headaches!

(You may have not felt the headaches prior because you were constantly pounding the coffee to take them away—relying on their gallbladder-stimulating and cortisol mitigating effects, discussed in  points 3 and 5).

Due to its diuretic nature, coffee can also interfere with the absorption  and balance of certain minerals and vitamins, including sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, B-vitamins and iron.

Lack of magnesium alone, as well as electrolyte imbalances, are connected to headaches. 

Reason #2: You’re a Slow Metabolizer of Caffeine

Genetically, some people are slow coffee metabolizers, meaning coffee stays in your body longer than others.

Caffeine is metabolized by an enzyme in the liver that is encoded for by the CYP1A2 gene. Unfortunately, about 50 percent of the population has a variant in the CYP1A2 gene that leads to slow processing of caffeine.

For slow metabolizers, drinking coffee (or not drinking it) is associated with impaired glucose metabolism or blood sugar balance throughout the day.

Post-coffee consumption often results in higher blood glucose response (hyperglycemia). However, if your body is used to drinking coffee—or several cups per day—and does NOT get it’s usual “hit” during coffee withdrawal, what do you think happens? HYPOglycemia—a blood sugar drop and blood sugar imbalance. A common symptom of hypoglycemia is (dun, dun, dun): headaches.

Note: You can find out whether you’re a “slow” or “fast” metabolizer by getting your genetic data —specifically the CYP1A2 gene—through a company like 23andme and SmartDNA. If you are AA, you’re a fast metabolizer. If you are AC or CC, you’re a slow metabolizer (with CC being slower than AC).

Reason #3: You Have a Congested Liver/Gallbladder

Coffee is a natural bitter herb.

Bitters tend to stimulate the gallbladder—the organ responsible for creating bile and waste, as well as producing enzymes to break down fats and some carbs.

(Fact: This is actually why many people develop coffee dependence in order to go #2—saying they can’t poo UNLESS they have their coffee, because coffee is the only thing that stimulates their congested or malfunctioning gallbladder or gallbladder cystic duct for those who have had their gallbladder removed).

That said, it’s NOT normal to depend on coffee to go #2. If this is you, that’s an instant sign that either:

(a.) your gallbladder is congested

(b.) you have other gut-related digestive issues going on (like low stomach acid, low enzyme production, bacterial overgrowth), and/or

(c.) your brain-gut connection and vagus nerve is totally “off line” and not stimulating digestion to work like it should

No matter what the mechanism, if you can only go #2 if you drink coffee AND you find that you get coffee withdrawal headaches WITHOUT it or your natural stimulant, you have a congested gallbladder.

Your bile is more sludge-like than typical, digestive enzyme production is low, and wastes, excess hormones (like cortisol and estrogen) and toxins passed along from your liver get “stuck” in a “gridlock” in your gallbladder.

This congestion congests your body as a whole—triggering a headache since hormones and toxins cannot be cleared effectively.

Reason #4: You Have a Protein & Amino Acid Deficiency or Malabsorption

Amino acids are the “building blocks” of neurotransmitters—the “feel-good” chemicals in our brains.When are brains become stripped of these feel-good chemicals, we reach for drugs” to feel better. And, I’m not necessarily talking about pot. Sugar, cigarettes, alcohol, and coffee are all “psychoactive drugs” (i.e. drugs that change our brain chemistry).

How come you may be deficient in amino acids?The body absorbs amino acids from the protein we eat. Unfortunately, many people are deficient in stomach acid, digestive enzymes and/or healthy gut bacteria that help them break down protein. Others opt for low-protein plant based diets, and do not consume complete amino acids.

Reason #5: Your Cortisol is Going Crazy

Drinking coffee increases cortisol and epinephrine at rest, and that levels of cortisol after caffeine consumption are similar to those experienced during an acute stress. Drinking coffee, in other words, re-creates stress conditions for the body.

man sitting holding his face, suffering from coffee withdrawal

Even decaf coffee can provoke a similar stress response. You may still experience coffee withdrawal headaches. Although it is often assumed that decaf coffee is 100% caffeine free, studies have shown that all types of decaf coffee contain caffeine. Generally, an 8-ounce cup of decaf coffee contains about 7 mg of caffeine. Although a regular cup of Joe gives you 70-140 mg, for people who are more sensitive to caffeine, even 7 mg can provoke caffeine side effects.

Many regular coffee drinkers—especially those who rely on coffee to give them an energy boost—tend to have “HPA Axis Dysregulation” and circadian rhythm dysfunction.

Translation: Their stress response is out of whack!

Hence, the reason why they reach for coffee to an energy boost when their cortisol levels, blood sugar levels or both are tanking. In the moment, coffee helps bring their cortisol hormones back to balance…and all is well…until the caffeine wears off again.

If you are detoxing off coffee and you’re not armed and ready to balance your plummeting cortisol and epinephrine levels  levels…hello headaches once more!

How to Prevent Coffee Withdrawal Headaches

If you get headaches if you miss your morning coffee or you want to detox from dependence coffee (without the pain)  try these 5 hacks. 

Hack #1: Hydrate + Sea Salt

Consume 16 to 20 oz of filtered water with a pinch of Himalayan sea salt & optional lemon in the morning to boost hydration status, lymph flow and energy naturally.

Drink at least half your bodyweight in ounces of water throughout the day. 

Hack #2: Balance Your Bloodsugar

Support healthy blood sugar levels throughout the day. A few game changers include:

a variety of fruits, vegetables, bread and drinks to help address coffee withdrawal headaches

(a.) Eat balanced meals—including fat, fiber and protein—at least 3 meals per day

(b.) Eat a small protein based snack if you feel blood sugar dipping, such as bone broth, quality protein powder, leftover chicken, turkey, hardboiled eggs, jerky, grass-fed greek yogurt or cottage cheese (if you tolerate dairy)

(c.) Sleep 7-9 hours each night and exercise 30-90 minutes daily. Under-sleeping and under-training OR overtraining mess with blood glucose levels just like sugar does!

(d.) Consider supplementing with  blood-sugar balancing nutrients, like this formula. 

Hack #3: Decongest Your Gallbladder

Get your gallbladder back online! You are not just “stuck” with a malfunctioning gallbladder or cystic duct forever.

Take a dropper or two of bitter herbs with meals along with some gallbladder support nutrients. (I love BETA TCP by Biotics Research. Also add in BETA PLUS if you’ve had your gallbladder removed).

Also, add a splash of apple cider vinegar to water to boost stomach acid and enzyme production with meals and eat plenty of cholagogue-rich foods.

Cholagogue foods support healthy gallbladder function and bile flow. The primary cholagogues are:

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  • Apples
  • Artichoke
  • Beets
  • Bitter greens
  • Celery

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  • Cinnamon
  • Fennel
  • Fenugreek
  • Ginger
  • Turmeric

(This is why celery juice is so popular) 

Hack #4: Boost Amino Acids

Supplement with Tyrosine or DLPA (Phenylalaline) for 3 days. (Some do better with one, others do better with the other).

For 3 days of being coffee free Take 500-1,000 mg with breakfast, and another 500-1,000 mg at lunch as you cut out the coffee.

Also, if you’re not eating protein in your diet—especially complete proteins like pastured organic poultry, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish, pastured eggs, meat and bone broths, and amino acids—re-evaluate.

How much protein do you need?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for any diet. For most moderately active adults, ideally 0.5 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is a good baseline—closer to the upper end if lean muscle tone, strength or improved body composition are part of your health goals.

Plant based dieters ideally need at least 10 to 20% of their daily needs met in proteins—quality sources that is, such as eggs, grass-fed dairy, soaked and dried beans and nuts and seeds, collagen peptides, amino acids, broths and wild caught fish. (Hint: Tofurkey and Impossible Burgers may be more marketing hype thanks to tons of chemicals and additives in these fake meats and meat glues).

Hack #5: Support Your Cortisol

a woman relaxing taking deep breathes to combat coffee withdrawal headaches

Stress is the anecdote to body balance—and headache free coffee detoxing.

Although stress is inevitable and not all stress is a bad thing, when we have an overload of stress, we run into roadblocks in how we feel (low energy, brain fog, constipation, bloating, anxiety).

A few game changers to begin balancing your cortisol and mitigate headaches include:

(a.) Deep breathing—several times per day, but especially when you feel a headache coming on. Inhale through your nose for 10 seconds and exhale through your nose or mouth for 10 seconds.

(b.) Dab a pinch of sea salt on your tongue. Sodium stores get zapped up when cortisol dips—they are a reserve and essential resource for the stress response. Carry sea salt with you in your car or purse and use as needed—it’s a weapon!

(c.) Supplement with an adrenal adaptogen like this one or this one can also be beneficial. Note: Supplements cannot replace diet and lifestyle stress. You also have to work on those things.

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