Thursday, September 1, 2011

Caffeine and stuttering - another paradox?

It is well known that caffeine, a major ingredient of eg. coffee and tea, can result in increased stress levels, and as a result many people – me included – believe that people who stutter should avoid caffeine-containing drinks and foods, as stuttering is, for many people if not most, to some extent stress-related.

A feature of stuttering, however, is that it can be fascinatingly paradoxical – and this could also be true of the relationship between stuttering and caffeine. For instance, in a recent web discussion somebody mentioned that he stopped taking caffeine for close to eight weeks (long enough to exclude any withdrawal effects), that his fluency actually deteriorated during that time, and only improved again after he resumed his caffeine intake. How can this be explained?

I can think of a few possible reasons:

1) Though caffeine is an “upper” and can boost energy levels, it is paradoxically also a pain reliever and is used in various painkiller pills. Its anaesthetic effect may impact on this particular person’s central nervous system in a special way, resulting in a reduced stress base level. It is well known that not everyone responds to substances in the same way, and caffeine may have this effect on this particular person.

2) The mild "high" experienced after taking caffeine may manifest itself in increased energy, optimism, confidence and a general sense of wellbeing (isn't that why caffeine-rich coffee or tea is so popular?), and these effects can in some people perhaps reduce stress, so improving fluency.

Have a look at the results of the informal survey below, and please participate if possible. From the results it would appear that a large majority of people who stutter find that drinking tea and coffee make them stutter more.




  1. When I was a kid I had a real bad stutter, but as I got older I seemed to loose it. Of course that may have had something to do with my increase caffeine consumption. Since last September I quit drinking coffee to reduce to amount I sweat, but not my stutter is back! (not super bad but it's there)maybe I'll try and drink more tea during the day!

  2. Well, there is still no scientific basis for such relationship between stuttering with that of caffeine intake. I guess the best conclusion for this is that, the body just has different ways of responding to a stimulus. As they say, “Not everything works for everyone.” Anyway, thank you for this very interesting post.

  3. This post is really interesting. I have experienced more fluency when taking caffeine. I have also experienced almost TOTAL fluency some occations when I have been drinking coffe and alcohol during the same evening.
    The common factor between alcohol and caffeine is that they both increases dopaminelevels in the brain. (There are certainly other common factors than just that).
    For a while ago I tried rhodiola rosea or arctic root after recomendations from my friends. It's a widely used natural herb.
    I found that this herb increased my fluency. In combination with alcohol it made me almost total fluent. I made some research about the rhodiola rosea and found out that this herb increased dopaminelevels (and more). Once again I recieved a high level of fluency by combining two known "dopamin increasers". An early conclusion, very early, might be that increased dopaminelevels may reduce stuttering in some people. Peter, I would like to hear a comment from you :) Thank you.

  4. Dear Anonymous, thank you for your interesting message. There are different opinions on the relationship between dopamine and stuttering; some research actually indicates that there may be TOO MUCH dopamine in the brains of stutterers, not too little. So the jury is still out on this. Check out the following written by Dr Martin Schwartz:

    "Some research points to an excess of dopamine (a neurotransmitter) in the basal ganglia of people who stutter. Some pharmacological approaches have tried to approach stuttering by reducing dopamine. Dopamine is an antagonist to another neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. The two neurotransmitters engage in a continuous balancing act.

    "It may be that there is not an excess of dopamine but, instead, an insufficiency of acetylcholine. Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is required for the production of acetylcholine. By giving an excess of B1 you can, at least theoretically, enhance the production of acetylcholine and thus redress the presumed imbalance. This is why B1 may work. B1 may make the basal ganglia work better so it can deal with the complex balancing act called speech production," says Dr Schwartz. "This, of course, is just speculation."

    The full post in which the above comment was made can be found here: Kind regards.

  5. Dear Peter, thank you for your comment. I have also heard about the theory of too much dopamine and insufficient amounts of acetylcholine. I think that one theory must not exclude the other. I mean, they are both neurotransmitters and more fluent speech can be achieved by increasing one of substances. This might mean that stuttering may be caused by imbalance in the neurotransmitting substances, just as Dr. Schwartz speculates.
    We know that many people have imbalance in the neurotransmitters because it may cause complications, for exaple, alzheimers, ADHD, depression and parkinsons desease. Stutteres may not have this severe imbalances that causes diagnosable complications. Instead they might have a hypersensetivity in the speechproduction area to the imbalance.
    Imbalance in the substances are common in a certain percent of people. The hypersensitivity in the speechproduction may be common in a certain percent of people and approx 1% of the worlds population have the imbalance issue AND the hypersensitivity in the speechproduction, and that makes a stutterer.
    I have been posting some other comments and thoughts here before so to make it easier I will now go under the name Joker.
    Peter, do you think this theory, (based on Dr Schwartz speculations of "brain impabalce") makes sence? / Joker

  6. Dear Joker, your guess is as good as mine. Biochemistry is a very complex field of study, and I don't have the necessary knowledge to comment meaningfully. Hopefully research will one day come up with concrete findings. In the meantime I think we should rather focus on what we already know, for instance the vocal-cord spasms and how they cause stuttering, and on working to improve our speech with the tools already at our disposal, such as stress management and fluency techniques. All the best and kind regards.

  7. Dear Peter,
    Even though biochemisrty is a complex field with many differences and exceptions I have some facts that strengthens the theory of brain imbalance, and particularly the imbalance I think I experience myself: "lack of dopamine".
    I looked at two dopamine-related diseases, parkinsons disease and ADHD. Both complications are related to low dopamine levels and both are known to be conected to stuttering. I found out, from one source, that 26% of the people, diagnosed with ADHD have stuttering problems. Parkinson's disease are also known to develop a stutter in the affected. The common factor between the to diseases are low levels of dopamine and a high number of stutterers. Thus, there seems to be some sort of conection.

    I think the connection is interesting and to go any further with this, I would probably have to get in touch with a neurologist. Maybe I should?
    Kind regards / Joker

  8. Dear Joker, as said, it's up to you. Brain biochemistry is not my field; though it would seem to me that the correlations which you mention are not statistically significant. With stuttering there are so many correlations, but only when the correlations are statistically significant will people begin to show interest. Then also one should keep in mind the stress factor. Someone with a particular ailment such as ADHD may have high stress levels due to ADHD, and we all know that stress plays a major role in stuttering. Stress can activate a latent tendency to begin stuttering, so if a child has ADHD and also has a stuttering tendency, that tendency may well be activated by the stress generated by ADHD. This may account for any correlation between ADHD and stuttering - without chemical imbalances being the cause. But don't let me discourage you - I suggest that you contact someone else who may be able to answer your questions. Kind regards.

  9. Does L theanine for relax increases dopamine levels?Does increased dopamine relates to hyperness cuz i notice when i am having fun and being hyper i stop stuttering? I don't know weird question.

  10. Anonymous, I don't know the answer to your biochemical questions, but the fact that you stop stuttering when having fun could be the result of distraction. It is well known that many people who stutter, stutter less or are fluent when taking part in activities that take their mind off their speech. This can be explained from a psychological (behavioral) viewpoint: the input triggers, that would otherwise result in conditioned stuttering behavior, are bypassed when you are involved in something else.

  11. I clicked on this article on Google after rapping a verse from a fast rapping rapper. Before rapping I drank a cup of coffee, no milk or cream and tablespoon of brown sugar. I usually stutter or slur a couple words when talking normally so imagine how it is trying to rap. After I drank my coffee I rapped the whole verse with no problem and I was amazed. I have been stuttering since a kid and over the years it cleared up then out of​nowhere it got worse. So severe to the point that I have to clear my throat or take deep breaths just to get out a few words. It sucks, it REALLY SUCKS. I gasp and blink like crazy. But since I can talk faster with no screw ups after drinking coffee I'm going to try drinking it every day for a few weeks and maybe it'll permanently help with my stuttering.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous. You're not the only one who has found that rapping helps fluency. A fluency-enhancing factor here probably is that the extreme speed of rapping the words can distract the rapper from stuttering. The mind is so focused on the rap that the fear of stuttering goes out of the window. Just like the submarine crew member who had to shout out a string of commands when an emergency and potentially deadly leak was found - he was totally fluent - though his hair turned grey afterwards lol. And as I mentioned in the article, caffeine usually creates a feeling of wellbeing, confidence and optimism which can all improve fluency. Then also, rapping is a creative form of self-expression, and self-expression is extremely important for us - check out my latest posts on the mindbody disorder called TMS (tension myositis syndrome). Stuttering may well be a type of TMS, and TMS people are helped by expressing themselves instead of bottling up their emotions. Best of luck with your caffeine experiment! I hope it works for you, and if it doesn't you will know that you should avoid caffeine in future.

  12. Hello Joker / Anonymous,

    I just read though this conversation between you and Peter and I find it fascinating. In my experience, caffeine removes my stutter as well, but when I come down from the caffeine buzz it returns early in the evening and I feel on edge. I’m curious, are you still drinking coffee and tea? If so, is it still helping with fluency? And are you still taking arctic root and rhodiola rosea? If so, are they still helping with fluency?

    Also, do you have a blog, where you share this information and I can engage in conversation with you?