Even though acupuncture usually works well for you – do you sometimes find that a treatment may not give you the pain relief you were hoping for?  There are lots of possible reasons why, but your caffeine intake could be part of it.


In this study Caffeine inhibits analgesic effect of acupuncture – from The Journal of Chinese Medicine, the researchers found that both acute and chronic caffeine administration could reverse acupuncture’s pain relieving effect.  In the animal model studied, a dose of caffeine immediately preceding acupuncture as well as a daily intake  of 70mg/kg/day (average daily dose in Western countries) for 8 days, both negated the acupuncture -induced analgesia.

What does this mean for you? While this was an animal study, it does raise the question of caffeine consumption and beneficial outcomes in clinical practice.

Coffee (and caffeine in general) consumption can be a touchy subject in clinic.  I often work with patients in pain or dealing with insomnia, anxiety or digestive complaints.  Caffeine can negatively affect every one of those conditions – so reducing or eliminating coffee often becomes a topic of conversation.  A difficult topic – people are really attached to their coffee.  Don’t get me wrong.  I happen to love coffee. I’m not here to demonize it (or worship it for that matter).  But, I also find it enlightening to take a little break from it every now and then and watch what changes.

From observation of patients who come having just consumed coffee, I find they generally have a less pleasant experience – they are usually a little jumpier, more sensitive to the needles and aren’t able to relax quite as well.  This isn’t surprising if you are at all familiar with the sensations that result after drinking a strong coffee, and it makes sense considering the properties of coffee from a TCM perspective.

The Institute for Traditional Medicine has an excellent article about the history and use of coffee in China and has this to say about coffee’s medicinal properties from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) paradigm:

“In sum, coffee dredges the liver to regulate the flow of liver qi, purges the gallbladder, opens the heart orifices, warms the blood circulation, detoxifies, and gently tonifies. However, while coffee dredges the liver qi, it does not necessarily smooth or soothe the liver qi. Therefore, one has to be cautious about the amount consumed and certain individuals will find the otherwise desirable effects distressing: releasing stagnated qi but not regulating its flow. As with other Chinese herbs, coffee would best be used in combination with herbs to moderate and enhance its effects. As an example, peony root (baishao) is often used to “soften” the liver, and smooth the flow of qi. Because coffee is consumed as a flavorful beverage, to pursue such an approach would best be done by having additional herbs taken in a form that wouldn’t alter the taste of the coffee, such as in pills. Excessive amounts of coffee will agitate the liver yang and even stimulate internal wind. Prolonged use of excessive amounts could thereby damage the blood, but for moderate amounts it serves as a valuable therapy for stagnated liver qi, with constricted circulation of blood, and constrained gallbladder function, with constricted elimination of damp and heat.” 
-COFFEE IN CHINA and the Analysis of Coffee According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, by Subhuti Dharmananda, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Traditional Medicine

I’m not asking you to give up coffee forever but if you either consume caffeine on a regular basis and/or prior to treatment you may well be setting yourself up for less relief.   If you’re in pain and not getting the results you’d been hoping for, it may be worth laying off the coffee for a bit and giving acupuncture another try!

Have you taken some time off from coffee – have you noticed any changes in your health for better or worse? Share your experience in the comments!