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Caffeine: the pain of going cold turkey.

It started with a severe headache. Before long, the young woman vomited and began experiencing other flu-like symptoms. "I can only compare that sickness to [last year's radiation and chemotherapy treatment for cancer]," she recalled. "The only difference was that it didn't last as long."

But her "cure" was swift and simple: resuming consumption of the colas and other caffeinated soft drinks she loved.

Physicians know that going "cold turkey" can induce lethargy and headaches among heavy caffeine users. But this "stunning" example "portrays how really incapacitating withdrawal can be" among low and moderate consumers of the drug, notes Roland R. Griffiths of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore. In the Oct. 15 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE, he and his colleagues document such effects in a study of 62 adults, including this young woman. Half typically consumed caffeine doses equivalent to a cup or two of coffee daily.

After analyzing the volunteers' dietary histories, the researchers prepared two pairs of capsules for each volunteer. One pair contained caffeine tailored to the individual's daily consumption; the other contained an inactive filler. Participants consumed the capsules in Griffiths' lab, taking one in the morning and the second capsule three to five hours later. Neither the volunteers nor the researchers knew whether the capsules administered on any given day contained caffeine. To divert attention from caffeine, researchers instructed volunteers to avoid during the test periods foods that contained chocolate, saccharin, aspartame, and shellfish. They also limited volunteers' drinks to milk, juice, and water.

Thirty or so hours after receiving the first capsule of each pair, participants filled out standard psychological questionnaires designed to assess mood. More than half reported experiencing headaches on the days they went without caffeine, the researchers note. Eight to 11 percent showed signs of depression and anxiety on those days -- symptoms that have not previously been associated with caffeine withdrawal, Griffiths says. The occasional flu symptoms may also surprise many physicians, he says.

In an editorial accompanying the research report, John R. Hughes of the University of Vermont in Burlington asserts that these "provocative" data not only suggest caffeine might be considered "a drug of dependence," but also indicate that physicians should rule out caffeine withdrawal before trying to treat patients for headaches, depression, fatigue, or drowsiness.
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Title Annotation:coffee and soda drinkers may experience flu-like symptoms
Author:Raloff, Janet
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 17, 1992
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