It may come as a shock to some that people can indeed be allergic to coffee. However, coffee allergy symptoms have been reported for many years though, as with any “newly discovered” allergy, people tend to scoff when they hear of such things. But coffee beans, just like any other plant product, are made of various particles that can cause allergic reactions.
There are three potential causes for an allergy to coffee, but before we discuss these, let us discuss a little bit about what coffee is and where it comes from. Understanding where coffee comes from plays a key role in understanding coffee allergy symptoms.
Coffee Is Not Made from Beans
Despite the fact that the substance coffee is made from is colloquially described as a coffee bean, coffee is actually made from the seeds of the coffee plant and is not in any way related to beans at all. The coffee plant produces berries and inside of them are the seeds we know as coffee beans. The plant itself is actually a tree that is cultivated in many countries, primarily in Latin America, South and Southeast Asia and Africa. The coffee tree grows in more than 70 countries all told. Coffee berries are allowed to ripen completely before harvesting and then the berries are dried. After drying, the green seeds are removed, processed and dried. After they are dried they are roasted by various methods and eventually find their way into homes and café’s around the planet where they are brewed into steaming cups of the most popular beverage in the world.
Now that we understand where coffee comes from, we can look at the different causes of an allergy to coffee.
Most people who are allergic to coffee are allergic to the caffeine in it. Caffeine is a naturally occurring drug classified as a stimulant. It’s found in many different things including tea and coffee and is a natural byproduct of various plants. A cup of coffee may contain as little as 80mg of coffee or as much as 135mg. This is an average of course and varies quite a bit depending on the type of coffee, how it’s roasted, how it’s brewed and of course, what breed of coffee plant it came from.
A caffeine allergy develops over time and is usually the result of what with any other drug would be referred to as substance abuse. Basically what happens is that the more caffeine is consumed, the higher the body’s tolerance to it gets. As a result, to get the results the body is craving, more caffeine is consumed until eventually what the person with a caffeine allergy is suffering from, often without even being aware of it, is caffeine toxicity. As the body develops the oversensitivity to caffeine caused by this, the person in question becomes more and more sensitive to it until even the smallest doses of caffeine cause negative reactions. Caffeine affects the body in a similar way to a poison, bringing about the natural release of chemicals in the body such as dopamine, adrenalin and serotonin. In small amounts, this release is what makes caffeine and effective stimulant and even beneficial to the body. But in large amounts, these chemicals produce unfortunate behaviors and reactions.
Caffeine directly targets neurons and cells and as such, most allergic reactions to it tend to present as mental issues. Anaphylactic symptoms such as heart palpitations, hyperventilation, chest pains, difficulty breathing and tightness of the throat do occur but are relatively rare and more commonly associated with extreme caffeine overdose. More commonly reported reactions are as follows:
- Mood swings
- Trouble concentrating
- Inability to focus
- Frantic behavior
- Memory problems
As you can probably see from looking at this by no means exhaustive list, these symptoms are so characteristic of many different common issues (such as mental disorders like ADHD and stress reactions) that a person can go for years experiencing these symptoms without any idea they are allergic to caffeine.
Coffee beans contain many different components aside from caffeine. Some examples are paraxanthine, liverine, theacrine, methylliberine, theobromine, chlorgenic acid and theophylline. A person can be sensitive or “allergic” to any of these substances but in general, while reactions to coffee are common and the sensitivity to it is recognized, the reasons for the reactions are poorly understood. Coffee allergy symptoms from these substances are, however, well documented and may include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Tongue swelling
- Facial swelling
- Itching in the mouth and throat
Coffee trees are actively cultivated in more than 70 countries. The process and methodology varies from community to community but it’s a very real possibility that the coffee is contaminated with any number of chemicals, oils and other substances, such as pesticides. While for most people, the contamination is so minute as to never produce a problem at all, for others; even the tiniest amounts of these chemicals may cause a nasty reaction. In this case, yes, coffee must be avoided but it’s not because of an allergy to the coffee itself. For many people suffering from these types of reactions, simply drinking 100% USDA Certified Organic coffee is enough to eliminate the symptoms of their coffee allergy.
Other reactions may be directly related to whatever is in the brewed coffee, Such as milk or soy. Unexplained reactions that occur upon drinking your favorite cup of coffee may go away if you switch creamers. People are just as likely to be unaware of dairy and soy sensitivities as they are an allergy to coffee and as such, may mistake a reaction to one as a reaction to the other.