Why That Daily Coffee May Help When You Hurt – Sep-2018 – Written by: Matt Windsor
This artilcle makes it sound like caffeine is an instant solution to our pain:
“it blocks receptors for the neurotransmitter adenosine, which interferes with pain-signaling”
Coffee has been known to slightly diminish pain and slightly enhance the effects of opioids merely through its stimulating properties, but it’s far from being a “pain reliever”, so this simplistic explanation doesn’t tell the whole story.
According to this 2014 study, 85 percent of the U.S. population consumes at least one caffeinated beverage per day, with coffee as the leading source by far, for an average intake of 165mg per day across all age groups. (People ages 50–64 are the biggest caffeine consumers, with an average 226mg per day.)
That is a very large group of people ingesting “the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world,” as UAB researchers described caffeine in an article published last month in the journal Psychopharmacology.
A team led by graduate student Demario Overstreet and Burel Goodin, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, with a research focus on pain modulation, wondered whether a person’s regular daily intake of caffeine had an effect on their sensitivity to pain.
Caffeine is already used in acute pain treatments (and it’s an ingredient in some headache medicines). But does higher caffeine consumption in the diet make people experience less pain?
To find out, the researchers recruited 62 participants ages 19–77 and asked them to record their daily caffeine consumption for seven days.
The average was 170.8 milligrams per day, while the highest was 643.6 milligrams per day, or roughly 6.5 cups of brewed java — well above the “safe” recommended maximum of 400mg per day. (Nearly 15 percent of the study participants reported drinking more than 400mg per day.)
Researchers then put the participants through a series of uncomfortable tests using heat and pressure, recording how long they tolerated the pain before pressing a button to end the trial.
The result, according to their paper:
“greater self-reported daily caffeine consumption was significantly associated with higher heat pain threshold, higher heat pain tolerance and higher pressure-pain threshold.”
Each additional 100mg of daily caffeine consumed, for example, was associated with a 0.5 degree Celsius (0.9 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in heat pain threshold.
Altering pain processing
Previous studies have shown that caffeine blocks receptors for the neurotransmitter adenosine, which interferes with pain-signaling.
This study “provides novel evidence suggesting that greater levels of habitual dietary caffeine consumption may alter the nociceptive [related to the body’s primary pain receptors] processing of pain signals,” the authors write.
Why only habitual caffeine consumption? If it works so well, why woudln’t caffeine function on an “as needed” basis for acute pain as well?
Further studies are needed, they note, to examine related questions. For instance, what about caffeine tolerance due to regular use?
And what are the competing or synergistic effects of tobacco, alcohol or illicit drug use? “Such work could shed new light on the potential health-promoting benefits of a diet that includes appropriate amounts of regular caffeine consumption, particularly in relation to pain management,” the paper concludes.
New research shows that irrespective of weight loss, a proper diet can decrease the severity of pain, said Goodin. But this message isn’t widely understood, he added:
“People just don’t realize that their diet, including caffeine consumption, can be used as a pain intervention.”
Below is the abstract of the study:
Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world. Caffeine administered acutely in a laboratory environment or as a medication adjuvant has known properties that help alleviate pain. However, much less is known about the potential impact of habitual dietary caffeine consumption on the experience of pain.
The primary objective of this observational study was to determine whether caffeine consumed habitually as part of a daily diet was associated with experimental pain sensitivity using noxious stimuli in a non-clinical sample of 62 community-dwelling adults between 19 and 77 years old.
Study participants monitored their daily dietary caffeine consumption (e.g., coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate) across a period of seven consecutive days using a caffeine consumption diary. On the seventh day of caffeine consumption monitoring, participants presented to the laboratory to complete experimental pain sensitivity testing. Noxious thermal and mechanical stimuli were used to obtain threshold and tolerance for painful heat and pressure, respectively.
Data analysis revealed that greater self-reported daily caffeine consumption was significantly associated with higher heat pain threshold (β = .296, p = .038), higher heat pain tolerance (β = .242, p = .046), and higher pressure pain threshold (β = .277, p = .049) in multiple regression models adjusted for covariates.
Results of this study completed with community-dwelling adults revealed that individuals who habitually consume greater amounts of caffeine as part of their daily diets demonstrate diminished sensitivity to painful stimuli in a laboratory setting.