Would you get relief from coffee withdrawal by given decaf coffee? A study published in this month’s journal of Psychopharmacology says that if you do, you are being hoodwinked. However there is another possible reason why some people were said to be responding to a placebo effect. Some subjects in the study said they had relief form caffeine withdrawal when they were given a drink that had decaf coffee. If we think about it those who give up coffee with caffeine are not giving up just caffeine. They are withdrawing from coffee which contains caffeine, various other substances, and the other reason we drink coffee: that wonderful coffee flavour. As a dietitian who investigates diets for those who suspect food in their symptoms, coffee is often investigated. I have met those who have given up coffee for 4 weeks and then tested decafinated coffee and found they were awake at 2am, just as they had been when on caffeinated coffee. So the other compounds in coffee, particularly the flavour have a role in the effect on us. The truth is that doing research with food is complex. Most of us know someone who gets symptoms from additives, spice, tomato, chocolate or MSG, so recognition that there are many compounds in food which are pharmacologically active is increasing in the community. I look forward to the time when psychopharmacologists learn more about how substances in food can affect us, and not assume that one food is like one medicine with only one compound to research. Joan Breakey
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