Are You Allergic To Caffeine? 4 Ways To Boost Your Focus Without Freaking Out Your Body

July 17, 2020

iced latte

Recently, I discovered a new favorite snack—canned iced oat milk latte. Previously, I have only had coffee about three times since Jan 2017, and before that I’d only had decaf coffee since college. When I had my first regular latte in high school and immediately broke out in hives, I knew caffeine and I were not friends. But this canned oat latte tasted so darn delicious that I thought it would be okay to slip in, once in a while.

Soon after incorporating this into my self-treat routine, I started seeing some red spots on my hands—but then I thought, “Oh I must have been gripping the vacuum cleaner a bit too hard in this warm weather. Silly me!” Only after I drank it on an empty stomach and little spots appeared all over my chest and arms, did I realize that the old caffeine allergy was rearing its ugly head. My skin is probably the weakest link of my body—eczema, acne, sun allergy, you name it, I’ve had it at various points in my life. So it was good-bye, caffeine… 💔

Caffeine allergy is different from caffeine sensitivity. When you are sensitive to caffeine, you may experience jitters, anxiety, and a crash. Those who are allergic to caffeine experience hives or rashes, as your body treats caffeine like a pathogen and activates an inflammatory response to fight it off. Since unnecessary or chronic inflammation is behind so many health issues, we want to avoid triggering allergies—and let me tell you, it’s not pretty either.

Isn’t caffeine good for you?

I’m bummed because I’ve heard of so many athletes who swear by drinking coffee before workouts to improve their performance. Caffeine helps cyclists and runners perform better, partly physiologically and partly by making them think that the task is easier (this too may be a combination of physiological and psychological factors). It even helps your focus and increase the feeling of well-being. But there’s a twist. A 2013 study has found that coffee does improve cognitive performance: however, it’s not caffeine, but the bioactive compounds in coffee, that are beneficial.

If you’re allergic to caffeine, but want to reap similar kind of mental and physical boost, here are some alternatives.

Wim Hof breathing

I caught sight of Wim Hof, aka Iceman, on Goop Lab on Netflix. Ever since, a number of friends have told me they follow the Wim Hof breathing method. I was skeptical, but one of the benefits of his breathing method is that it’s totally free and fairly harmless. For beginners, this involves: 30 deep breaths, followed by a 30-second hold, a quick inhalation followed by a 15-second hold. You do this cycle 3 times, increasing the long hold to 60 seconds, and then 90 seconds in subsequent rounds.

One of the purported benefits of this breathing method is increased energy, concentration, and performance. A 2014 study by Raboud University researchers found that subjects who practiced Wim Hof method could control their immune responses to an endotoxin and showed 200% higher anti-inflammatory mediators than the control group. In sum, Wim Hof breathing has all the benefits of coffee, and can be a tool to calm down any symptoms if you accidentally / not so accidentally have a sip of iced latte.

Cold shower

Wim Hof is also a big proponent of cold exposure and cold showers, although I think this movement is bigger than him. Cold showers also increase concentration, boost energy, raise your metabolism, and help you recover faster from athletic performance. (See: Lindsay’s report on what happened to her after taking a month of cold showers.) Tip: cold showers are recommended for post-workout. If you try this before a workout, do make sure to warm up your muscles thoroughly.

Ginger tea

Because I’m currently sitting here with polka-dot skin, I’m craving ginger tea like crazy! It is a super anti-inflammatory that I reach for whenever I have muscle and joint pain, or the slightest hint of scratchy throat. Not only is it perfect for calming any caffeine allergy symptoms, ginger boosts energy by stimulating your adrenal catecholamines, compounds that manage energy consumption. So drinking ginger tea can give you oomph right before you have to dive into a fitness session or tough work task. Ginger also supports your cardiovascular health.

Rosemary tea

I’ve been a fan of rosemary tea since first encountering it in a cozy vegan cafe in Nice. Now I can take as much as I want from my parents’ garden, which is another bonus. Rosemary has multiple scientifically proven cognitive benefits, such as: improving learning, combating bran damage and neurotoxicity, improving memory impairment (including dementia), and reducing inflammation. It’s also known for its antidepressant effect.

Do you have a caffeine allergy? Or just me? 😓

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Photo: Nathan Dumlao via Unsplash


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