Why This Doctor Recommends Microdosing Caffeine To His Patients

Integrative Gastroenterologist By Marvin Singh, M.D.
Integrative Gastroenterologist
Dr. Marvin Singh is an Integrative Gastroenterologist in San Diego, California. He is trained and board certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology/Hepatology.
Multiple Cups of Coffee on Saucers

Image by Martí Sans / Stocksy

The concept of microdosing is all the rage these days—and for a good reason. Microdosing refers to the practice of taking tiny portions of a substance, usually around one-tenth or one-twentieth of a normal dose. The idea is to reap the positive benefits of a substance, without any of the negative.

What's more, everyone's body is different, so people respond to substances in their own unique way. Plus, sometimes it's easier to ramp up something slowly rather than go straight for the higher dose, which is why I often recommend microdosing to my patients in various contexts. Recently, one practice I've been fascinated with is microdosing caffeine.

What is caffeine microdosing?

To achieve an optimal energy zone, you generally need to consume between 60 mg and 100 mg of caffeine. Plus, your overall ability to concentrate and perform is more ideal when you can remain in this sweet spot over a steady period of time. To put that into perspective, one cup of coffee generally contains about 100 mg of caffeine, a shot of espresso is 85 mg of caffeine, and a cup of green tea is 40 mg of caffeine.

One way to optimize your intake is through microdosing, or consuming small amounts of caffeine throughout the day. This might look like drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, and then only having green tea throughout the rest of the day. Or slowly sipping your coffee in the morning, which may help you drink around 10 mg or so of caffeine at a time. These techniques may give you enough stimulation to help you be as productive as possible without feeling jittery or anxious.

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The benefits of caffeine, even in small doses.

While too much caffeine can cause negative side effects like anxiousness or a rapid heartbeat, there is a lot of evidence in scientific literature regarding caffeine, its health benefits, and its potential as a microdosing agent.

In addition to increasing energy and improving cognition, there is also some research that indicates it may affect inflammatory conditions and autoimmunity. Other literature suggests that natural caffeine sources like coffee may help prevent prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.

Caffeine has also been researched since the 1970s as a performance-enhancing substance, for athletes and military, but often at moderate to high doses. However, what we are finding now is that low doses can be safer and better for the body: They can help improves alertness, mood, and cognition during and after physical exercise but with few (if any) side effects. In fact, a recent review suggested that low doses of caffeine, as low as 3 mg, can be just as effective as higher doses.

What's more, scientists at Harvard did a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study where 16 male subjects microdosed caffeine for, and were sequestered for, 29 days. They were also deprived of time cues so they could simulate the extended wakefulness that doctors, military, and emergency services first responders often experience. What the researchers found was that those who took the low-dose caffeine supplement performed better on cognitive tests and had fewer accidental sleep onsets. The results suggest that microdosing caffeine can be especially helpful in circumstances in which an individual must wait for the opportunity for a good night of restorative sleep (think essential workers).

Should you try microdosing caffeine?

When patients are interested in optimizing their nutrient and vitamin levels, I often run a nutritional genomics panel. When I do this, one of the common genes that is tested for is a gene that affects caffeine metabolism. If a patient has a gene mutation in the CYP1A2 gene, they have an increased risk of high blood pressure or heart attack if they drink more than 200 mg of caffeine daily.

This is all to say that some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Maybe you've already noticed this about yourself anecdotally—perhaps after having two cups of coffee you feel shaky or anxious. For context, most people tend to get into the jitter zone when they hit 140 mg to 200 mg, which is often the case when drinking energy and power drinks. 

Regardless of how you metabolize caffeine, taking it in small amounts can help you hone in on the exact dose you need to optimize your focus, creativity, mood, and energy without worrying about what happens when you "crash" from the caffeine high and start getting headaches and other side effects.

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Cautions for caffeine microdosing.

One thing I always like to caution people about is reading labels. You want to make sure that your good intentions are not negated by taking a product that has other unhealthy ingredients mixed in or contains caffeine from an unnatural source.

I always advise my patients to look for labels such as "from a plant source" like green coffee beans or green tea leaves, for example. If this isn't disclosed on the label, it's possible that the product you are taking could be synthetic and made in a lab. Also there are more health benefits from using a natural source of caffeine rather than a synthetic processed form. Like with anything you ingest, make sure the products are true to their purpose.

Also, please remember that it is important to consult with your doctor before trying something new, like caffeine microdosing.

Bottom line.

Microdosing can be a useful way to reap the benefits of caffeine. Especially if you are a slow caffeine metabolizer like me, it can help you avoid unwanted side effects from excess coffee. Just be sure to speak to your doctor before making any drastic changes to your nutrition routine.

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