Caffeine is massively popular in today’s culture, in fact one study has estimated that 85% of the adults in the United States drink at least one caffeinated beverage a day. For most people this is not a bad thing, several studies have documented the positive effects of moderate caffeine consumption. Some of these benefits include mental alertness, concentration, fatigue, and athletic performance.[1] However, for certain populations, caffeine can cause side effects that have a negative influence on their quality of life. This is especially true for people who suffer from hyperhidrosis, a condition in which a person sweats in excess of what their body needs for thermoregulation.[2] For people who already struggle with excessive sweating, adding caffeine can cause a bad problem to become worse.

How Drinking Coffee Causes People to Sweat

Caffeine is a type of mild stimulant. Even though most people don’t think of it as a drug, it does cause notable psychological and physiological changes in the human body when ingested. Caffeine is a naturally occuring herbal supplement that can increase the energy expenditure of the body. As it is a stimulant, caffeine accelerates the functions of the central nervous system. While caffeine speeds up several processes within the central nervous system, its specific ability to increase thermogenesis of the body is the primary reason that caffeine causes people to sweat.[3] Thermoregulation, the ability of the body to regulate its internal temperature, is the reason why humans sweat. When sweat is released from the body it carries heat away from the surface of the skin in a process called transpiration.[4] As caffeine accelerates thermogenesis, or causes the body to creates heat, the temperature of the body exceeds its natural setpoint in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that regulates physiological processes and it acts as a natural thermostat. So, when the hypothalamus alerts the body that it is too hot it activates the sympathetic nervous system, which causes physiologic changes like sweating and vasodilation.

Hyperhidrosis, The Nervous System and Coffee

Primary hyperhidrosis is sometimes described as a disease caused by chronic autonomic nervous system dysfunction. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for unconscious bodily functions that keep a person alive, like breathing, temperature regulation and heartbeat.Specifically, it is thought that the overactive sweat glands and excessive sweating caused by primary focal hyperhidrosis is a result of a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system, a part of the autonomic nervous system that is responsible for the “fight or flight” response.[4] This is interesting because caffeine consumption also activates the sympathetic nervous system which then causes people to sweat. For someone with hyperhidrosis, drinking caffeine directly activates the part of their brain that is causing their problems in the first place.

Caffeine is also associated with a higher incidence of stress sweating. This is because it can trigger emotional activity, which by itself can stimulate sweat glands to produce sweat, and affect the neurotransmitters that sweat glands utilize. Caffeine influences neurotransmitters that activate eccrine sweat glands as caffeine is an agonist of adenosine A1 and A2A receptors and increases cholinergic activation. Eccrine sweat glands are activated by cholinergic fibers.[3] This demonstrates that caffeine can increase sweat production in a few different ways.

Secondary hyperhidrosis is a type of hyperhidrosis that is caused by a specific biological factor. For example, many common medicines cause hyperhidrosis as a side effect. There are also several conditions and diseases that cause hyperhidrosis as a result of their impact on the body. Menopause is one of the conditions that can cause secondary hyperhidrosis, and caffeine can actually have an effect on the amount of night sweats and hot flashes that women in menopause experience. Studies have shown that caffeine intake increases the amount of night sweats and hot flashes menopausal women experience due to the way it influences the nervous system.[5]

The Takeaway

Surveys have shown that the majority of caffeine that adults in the U.S. consume comes from the coffee they drink. This differs from children, who get the most caffeine from carbonated soft drinks. It has also been found that coffee does not have any substantial health risks when a quantity of 400 mg per day or less is ingested.[1] That is equivalent to about four cups of coffee. For someone with hyperhidrosis, it is probably best for them to consume less than that daily maximum. Caffeine can induce sweating, even when consumed in lower doses, so it is important for individuals with hyperhidrosis to understand how caffeine affects their body specifically. The goal for a person with hyperhidrosis is the find a balance between drinking the amount of caffeine they want and minimizing the symptoms it causes. It is not necessary to completely cut out coffee, but in order to manage their sweat, a person with hyperhidrosis should aim to consume around 200 mg per day or less. Unfortunately for those with hyperhidrosis, like caffeine, alcohol can also cause excessisve sweating. So, in order to keep sweating in check, using moderation when consuming tastey beverages is key.

  1. Mitchell, D. C., Knight, C. A., Hockenberry, J., Teplansky, R., & Hartman, T. J. (2014). Beverage caffeine intakes in the U.S. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 63, 136-142. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2013.10.042
  2. Pariser, D. M. (2014). Hyperhidrosis (4th ed., Vol. 32). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.
  3. Tae-Wook, K., Young-Oh, S., Jeong-Beom, L., Young-Ki, M., & Hun-Mo, Y. (2010). Effect of caffeine on the metabolic responses of lipolysis and activated sweat gland density in human during physical activity. Food Science and Biotechnology, 19(4), 1077-1080. doi:10.1007/s10068-010-0151-6
  4. Huddle, J. R. (2014). Hyperhidrosis: Causes, Treatment Options and Outcomes. New York, NY: Nova Science.
  5. Caffeine intake may worsen menopausal hot flashes, night sweats. (2014, July 14). Science News. Retrieved September 27, 2018.