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Nervous - Caffeinism and anxiety

by Paul Bergner

Medical Herbalism: 07-31-96 8(1/2): 5

Turn of the century herbal and medical texts described a syndrome known as caffeinism, which includes most of the symptoms of anxiety. The table below compares the symptoms of caffeinism with the conventional diagnosis of chronic anxiety — one form of “stress” in lay terms. Note that conventional medical texts do not even suggest asking patients with these symptoms if they drink coffee, drink caffeinated drinks, or take caffeine pills. Instead, the doctor will usually prescribe a sedative like Valium, adding potentially-addictive drug intoxication to the already existing problem of caffeinism.

You don’t need to take a lot of caffeine in order to get these symptoms. Some of us might get away with a few cups of coffee or its equivalent as day, but individuals can develop the symptoms caffeinism even from this amount. In one scientific study, patients with anxiety disorder rated their symptoms on a standard test. Their levels of anxiety and depression correlated directly with the amount of caffeine they consumed. Another group of six anxiety patients who consumed the caffeine equivalent of 1.5 to 3.5 cups of coffee — about the average for Americans — cut their intake to zero. Within 12-18 months, five of the six were symptom-free.

Some symptoms of caffeinism(*)




nervous irritability


heart palpitations

mental confusion

muscular weakness

physical exhaustion

Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    281


    Medical Herbalism: Clinical Articles and Case Studies

(*) King’s American Dispensatory, 1898

Some symptoms of chronic anxiety(**)





irrational thinking

heart palpitations

difficult concentration

motor weakness

chronic fatigue


(**) Merck Manual, 1992 edition
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    282