While caffeine consumption is a daily habit for many people, it can become a little more complicated for those with a central nervous system disorder like epilepsy. That’s because caffeine interacts with certain brain signals, and seizures occur when there’s an imbalance of electrical activity in the brain.
In high doses, caffeine can be a potential epilepsy trigger—but in lower doses, research shows, it may be helpful for some people with the condition. This article provides an overview of caffeine consumption and seizure risk for people with epilepsy.
Potential Links Between Caffeine and Seizures
Caffeine acts as a stimulant for the brain, which, along with the spinal cord, is part of the central nervous system. Stimulants excite or arouse these parts of the body. But researchers are still gaining an understanding of the relationship between caffeine, epilepsy, seizures, and anti-seizure medications.
Large Amounts of Caffeine and Increased Seizure Risk
Excessive caffeine intake can be risky for anyone, especially those with seizures.
Experts say that consuming more than 1,200 milligrams (mg) of caffeine—which would equal roughly 12 cups of coffee—within a short time can lead to dangerous side effects like seizures.
Specific to epilepsy, some research has suggested that more than four cups of coffee per day might trigger more seizures than usual. That equals about 400 mg of caffeine.
Within the general population, pregnant people should limit caffeine to 200 mg per day. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine for children and adolescents.
Low-Dose Caffeine and Seizure Protection
On the flip side, animal studies have also indicated that consuming a moderate amount of caffeine regularly might protect against the risk of getting seizures.
According to research, a regular low-dose caffeine routine is linked to a lower likelihood of getting seizures in some cases. But as experts point out, these results can vary case by case, depending on the specific caffeine dose, exposure period, and other factors.
The effects of caffeine in people with drug-resistant epilepsy (which means medications aren’t able to control their seizures very well) appear to be a little less studied.
At least one study suggests that moderate coffee consumption may be helpful for reducing seizures in people with certain types of drug-resistant epilepsy. More research is needed to confirm specifics like the exact caffeine dosage and its effects on the different types of focal epilepsy.
Can Caffeine Trigger Seizures?
Caffeine has a direct impact on the brain. While this stimulant can increase energy levels, it also comes with several negative side effects.
Stopping caffeine suddenly may be a seizure trigger in certain people who are used to consuming the stimulant regularly.
Common caffeine withdrawal symptoms include drowsiness, headaches, irritability, nausea, and vomiting. But some research done in animals suggests that abruptly stopping caffeine can increase the frequency of seizures.
If you have epilepsy, check with a healthcare provider before cutting caffeine completely out of your diet.
Expert opinions are mixed on whether caffeine causes dehydration. But it does have a diuretic effect (meaning it helps your body extract extra salt and water through urination).
Because some seizures can be triggered by dehydration, it’s possible that being even mildly dehydrated from caffeine consumption could bring on a seizure in some people.
In the short term, caffeine is known to improve alertness. But drinking too much can also lead to side effects like insomnia or other sleep issues.
Sleep deprivation is a seizure trigger for some people with epilepsy. It may be particularly important to watch your caffeine intake to ensure it’s not interfering with your sleep—and accidentally prompting seizures.
Caffeine’s Individual Effects
Caffeine impacts everyone differently. How your body responds to caffeine may depend on factors like genetic makeup, how the stimulant is metabolized (broken down) in the liver, and whether any medications or supplements you may be taking interact with caffeine sensitivity.
In addition, people consume caffeine in different ways, including coffee with creamer, a shot of espresso, or a caffeinated soft drink. Because there can be substances other than caffeine in these drinks, it’s hard for experts to pinpoint whether caffeine alone contributes to the chances of having a seizure.
Safe Ways to Boost Your Energy With Epilepsy
Do you want to cut back on your caffeine intake but still keep your energy up?
Experts generally recommend the following tips as safe ways to stay alert without overdoing it on caffeine:
- Eat regular meals.
- Stay active through movement and exercise.
- Maintain a healthy sleep schedule
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Do not smoke.
These lifestyle habits help promote good health and natural energy levels and can be modified to the individual’s specific situation—whether you have epilepsy or not.
Talking to Your Healthcare Provider About Epilepsy and Caffeine
Because there may be some risks that come along with caffeine consumption in people with epilepsy, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider about your caffeine intake to determine whether it may be impacting seizure frequency.
Before having this conversation, you might consider keeping a log of your seizures and tracking your diet on those days to identify a potential pattern. Any additional or unusual symptoms you may be experiencing will also be important to note.
The relationship between caffeine and seizures is complicated. While some research indicates that consuming caffeine can be a seizure trigger, other studies suggest that regular, low doses of caffeine may protect against seizures in some people with epilepsy.
Because of this, many experts think the impact that caffeine has on seizures is likely dependent on several factors, including the caffeine dosage and frequency. Because each person’s caffeine sensitivity and how epilepsy affects them will vary, it’s best to discuss your caffeine intake with a healthcare provider who can provide a personalized recommendation.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- Can you drink coffee if you have epilepsy?
Caffeine affects people with epilepsy differently. Studies show that consuming a low dose of caffeine on a regular basis may be OK if you have epilepsy, but it’s important to discuss this with your healthcare provider first to make sure this is safe for you.
- How much caffeine is too much for someone with epilepsy?
There are no official caffeine intake recommendations for people with epilepsy, and the condition affects each person differently. For reference, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that up to 400 mg of caffeine per day for most healthy adults is not associated with negative effects. But what is appropriate for you will depend on your medical history of epilepsy and any medications you may be taking. Work with your healthcare provider to determine the safest caffeine amount for you.
- Which foods can trigger seizures?
Research has suggested that eating a ketogenic diet or gluten-free diet may help protect against seizures.
Anyone with a seizure disorder considering changing their diet for these purposes is urged to do so under the supervision of a healthcare provider.
Source: verywellhealth.com, Cristina Mutchler