Kicking The Caffeine Habit
by Caroline MacDougall
The following article is a courtesy of the Teecino Company. For more information on caffeine and healthy coffee alternatives, click here.
You may have just visited your health practitioner who told you to quit drinking coffee. Or your body has been giving you alarm signals that it no longer tolerates caffeine like it used to when you were younger. But you love that coffee habit! It's the morning brewing ritual. It's the aroma of the roasted beans. And it's the caffeine jolt that makes waking up seem easier, not to mention the headaches that can be severe when you miss your next cup of coffee. Don't worry, there is an easy way to quit, some satisfying alternatives to replace that roasted brew, and plenty of good reasons to do it now.
You can get off of caffeine painlessly using a weaning process that gradually reduces your caffeine intake while you rebuild your natural energy supply. The solution is herbal coffee. Like herbal tea that is caffeine-free and made from herbs that are brewed like tea, caffeine-free herbal coffee is made from herbs, grains, fruits and nuts that have been roasted, ground and brewed just like coffee. Herbal coffee is high in potassium, an electrolyte mineral that stimulates nerve impulses, helps oxygenate the brain, lowers blood pressure and enhances athletic performance. Herbal coffee helps you rebuild your own natural energy supply by nutritionally supporting your body's energy production. No more drug induced jolts that leave you with an energy crash a few hours later!
Coffee has become a fixture in our lives because of one thing. It is an excellent drug delivery system for caffeine. A coffee drinker wants, expects, and has grown to require an energy lift. But letÕs look at this more closely. Does caffeine deliver an energy lift? To answer that, we have to define what is energy and what isn't. We know food delivers energy. Food supplies calories in the form of carbohydrates, protein and fat which, when metabolized, give the body glucose, vitamins and minerals that feed the brain and the muscles. Without real metabolic energy, our bodies can't perform. But what do caffeine and coffee supply? They don't contain any nutrients so they aren't feeding our brain and muscles. In fact, they don't give us energy at all. They give us stress. Caffeine is a drug that stimulates the adrenal glands to produce the classic "fight or flight" syndrome. Epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol are released by the adrenals into the blood stream to shut down any ancillary systems that require energy, like digestion and immune protection, so that all the body's energy can be channeled into survival. This was great for facing saber tooth tigers and other life threatening dangers, but what happens when our bodies are kept in this emergency state day in and day out, all day long?
Well, imagine that your adrenal glands are like a bank account. The answer to how long you can continue to make repeated withdrawals against your reservoir of good health and longevity depends on your genetic inheritance and other lifestyle habits. But you can be sure of one thing. Caffeine depletes energy, it doesn't supply
The Adrenal Glands and Stress Prevention
More than 150 hormones including DHEA, testosterone, and estrogen are produced or metabolized by the adrenal glands. These extraordinary glands are thus very important to good health and longevity. If you're whipping them everyday with caffeine, expect your aging process to accelerate especially as you hit your forties when hormone production starts to decline. High levels of cortisol, which unfortunately can stay elevated as long as 18 hours after a cup of coffee, will compromise your immune system and interfere with your body's ability to fight off pathogens. And if you are one of those coffee drinkers who can go right to sleep after a double shot of espresso, ask yourself, why am I still waking up exhausted and reaching for another cup of coffee? You may sleep, but caffeine interferes with you reaching the stage of deep sleep called Stage Four sleep where your body does its essential rebuild and repair work.
And how about the way you feel when driven by caffeine? Remember the last time you or someone else flew off the handle when faced with an everyday challenge? It would be interesting to know how many cups of coffee preceded the meltdown, because caffeine lowers the brain's "stress threshold". Events that we would normally handle with aplomb, suddenly become insurmountable.
Consider that most working adults consume 300 mg or more of caffeine (20 oz of drip coffee) before lunch, often on an empty stomach. Research shows conclusively that this can produce anxiety, irritability and in some individuals, panic...exactly the opposite of what we need when facing life's inevitable delays or conflicts. If you or your mate end the day stressed out and exhausted, depressed and worried, remember that caffeine is the greatest cause of stress in our culture.
Rebuild Your Natural Energy Supply
When a coffee drinker quits caffeine, they miss that drug induced jolt that gave them the sensation of having enough energy to get going. What they really need is a true natural energy lift. Herbal coffee, unlike coffee beans, actually has calories because it is made from herbs, grains, fruits and nuts that contain food nutrients. The herbs in herbal coffees are naturally high in potassium. Potassium is added to sports drinks to help athletes recover their energy after workouts. Herbal coffee has twice the potassium as Gatorade¨ whose potassium is artificially added. So herbal coffee gives the body a natural energy lift that is produced by the body's own natural energy systems.
Caffeine, on the other hand, forces the liver to release glucose into the blood stream. This produces a temporary blood sugar high that is often followed by a blood sugar low when the body reacts by producing insulin to store the excess sugar as fat. With herbal coffee, you can avoid this metabolic stress and enjoy a steady energy state produced by complex carbohydrates and potassium.
Some people find their natural energy returns easily but others suffer from some energy lows during the first few weeks after quitting coffee. Allow yourself to feel more tired than usual. Your body is giving you some important signals you may have been ignoring for some time as you continued to seek energy from caffeine. That tired feeling is temporary but you may find you need to catch up on some much needed sleep. Herbal tonics that help rebuild adrenal health and detoxify the body can help you restore your natural energy more quickly. Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) and Panax Ginseng (Panax ginseng or quinquefolius) traditionally combined with licorice are considered adrenal tonics. Both are classified as adaptogens, herbs that strengthen the immune system, the nervous system and the glandular system. Other adaptogens which can be of help to weakened adrenals are astragalus, schizandra berries, ashwaganda and wild yam. You might also consider some herbs to help detoxify the liver, kidneys and bowels. Herbs such as milk thistle, burdock root, parsley, uva ursi and psyllium seeds can strengthen and support taxed systems of elimination that have been exhausted by too much caffeine. Remember to drink more water - at least 8 cups per day - during this detoxification period.
Nutritional supplements that support adrenal health are the B vitamins and in particular pantothenic acid (B-5). If you need an additional energy boost during your recovery, try a bioenergetic nutritional supplement that has Co-Q10, alpha ketoglutaric acid, chromium, and potassium and magnesium aspartate. You'll find it gives you a real energy boost by increasing metabolic efficiency rather than stimulating the nervous system. This approach can be likened to feeding the horse rather than whipping it.
Beware of products parading as energy uppers that simply contain more harmful stimulants. Many of them depend on caffeine from lesser known sources such as guarana, kola nut, and yerba mate, or ephedrine from Ma Huang.
Some heavy coffee drinkers experience "brain fog" in the first month or so of quitting caffeine. Good nutrition along with a bioenergetic supplement coupled with some herbal extracts including gotu kola and gingko biloba will help you clear that fog and restore your normal brain clarity.
De-caf Versus No-caf
Why not just switch to decaf coffee you may ask? Decaf still contains approximately 7 mg of caffeine per 6 oz cup, enough to give healthy adrenal glands a good jolt. Decaf still has all the coffee acids and oils that may be giving you problems with your digestion or liver. In fact, since decaf is made from stronger flavored but highly acidic robusta beans, it tends to be even more caustic than regular coffee, which is usually made primarily from the higher grade arabica beans. Scientific studies have shown that decaf raises blood cholesterol levels faster and higher than regular coffee!
The acid issue is also significant. A steady diet of highly acidic foods and beverages can strain the body's alkaline balance. In order to neutralize dietary acids, our bodies use calcium as a buffering agent. Coffee thus creates a "double-whammy" by using up available calcium and at the same time causing increased excretion of calcium in the urine. The net result is that coffee drinkers rapidly deplete their calcium reserves and are at increased risk for osteoporosis. This can be a devastating problem for post-menopausal women and is also a significant factor in men's health.
If that wasn't bad enough, most decaf coffee is still being processed with toxic solvents such as methylene chloride. While most of the chemical is washed off the beans after the decaffeination process, it is impossible to remove it all, and significant residue has been found in the final product. Even the Swiss water process exposes the beans to a very hot water bath that removes much of the flavor along with most of the caffeine, leaves behind the oils and acids, and requires a chemical solvent to speed up the process. The fact remains that the finest decaf still carries significant health risks.
Caffeine and Your Body
If you need additional motivation, keep in mind the following health problems that can be exacerbated by caffeine.
- Cardiovascular Problems: Caffeine increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and can contribute to the development of heart disease. Both decaf and regular coffee increase your cholesterol and homocysteine, the biochemical that science has linked to increased risk for heart attack. Caffeine is also linked to coronary vasospasms, the cause for 20% of all fatal heart attacks which kill otherwise perfectly healthy people.
- Stress: Caffeine stimulates the excretion of stress hormones which can produce increased levels of anxiety, irritability, muscular tension and pain, indigestion, insomnia, and decreased immunity. Increased levels of stress from caffeine can keep you from being able to make healthy responses to the normal daily stress everyone is subjected to in their lives.
- Blood Sugar Swings: Diabetics and hypoglycemics should avoid caffeine because it stimulates a temporary surge in blood sugar which is then followed by an overproduction of insulin that causes a blood sugar crash within hours. If you're trying to loose weight, this rollercoaster will actually cause weight gain since insulin's message to the body is to store excess sugar as fat and the appetite becomes increased once the blood sugar is low.
- Gastrointestinal Problems: Many people experience a burning sensation in their stomach after drinking coffee because coffee increases the secretion of hydrochloric acid leading to an increased risk for ulcers. Coffee, including decaf, reduces the pressure on the valve between the esophagus and the stomach so that the highly acidic contents of the stomach pass up to the esophagus leading to heartburn and gastro-esophageal reflux disease. With our culture's high consumption of coffee, its no wonder the best selling over-the-counter drugs are the so-called antacids.
- Nutritional Deficiencies: Caffeine inhibits the absorption of some nutrients and causes the urinary excretion of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and trace minerals, all essential elements necessary for good health.
- Male Health Problems: Dr. Milton Krisiloff, M.D. has found that in the majority of cases, men can significantly reduce their risk for urinary and prostate problems by making dietary changes that include eliminating coffee and caffeine.
- Female Health Problems: Fibrocystic breast disease, PMS, osteoporosis, infertility problems, miscarriage, low birth weight infants, and menopausal problems such as hot flashes are all exacerbated by caffeine consumption. Women on birth control pills are particularly at risk since they have a decreased ability to detoxify caffeine.
- Adrenal Exhaustion: Caffeine consumption leads to eventual adrenal exhaustion that can leave you vulnerable to a variety of health disorders related to inflammation, autoimmunity, depression and other mood imbalances.
- Aging: Many people find in their forties that they can no longer tolerate the same level of caffeine consumption as they could in their twenties and thirties. The production of DHEA, melatonin, and other vital hormones start to decline and caffeine speeds up that downhill drop. Conversely, cortisol, a stress hormone, increases in productions as we age and caffeine increases cortisol levels in the blood for up to 18 hours. Caffeine dehydrates the body and contributes to the aging of the skin and kidneys. It has been shown to inhibit DNA repair and slow the ability of the liver to detoxify foreign toxins.
If you're interested in a more comprehensive and in-depth look at caffeine and it's effects on the body and mind, read Caffeine Blues by Stephen Cherniske, M.S. published by Warner Books.
Quitting Coffee the Pain-free Way
Caffeine withdrawal headaches can be incapacitating. Often they are accompanied by fatigue as your body starts to recuperate from its former caffeine-driven pace. It may interest you to know why you get a headache when you skip your morning cup. Caffeine, you see, acts a as powerful vasoconstrictor in the brain. That is, it constricts blood vessels in the brain and decreases circulation! When caffeine is not present, the sudden increased circulation causes headaches. While this keeps millions of people addicted to the caffeine habit, the good news is that you can avoid this pitfall by slowly weaning yourself off caffeine over a two to three week period. Start by mixing your normal coffee 3/4 to 1/4 herbal coffee. Gradually reduce the percentage of your coffee over a two-three week period until you are drinking 100% herbal coffee. You should be able to avoid the headaches and also gradually adjust your body to less reliance on stimulants.
Herbal coffee is versatile; you can brew it in drip coffee makers, percolators, French presses, and even espresso machines. Like coffee, you can get a variety of different flavors of herbal coffee. So no matter what method or flavor you prefer, you'll still be able to keep your same brewing ritual and enjoy the aroma and flavor of a rich, deep roasted brew.
Protect the Gift of Good Health
As many coffee drinkers have discovered, you never know the myriad ways that coffee is affecting you until you quit. Your body is like a sophisticated laboratory that specializes in one thing: you. If you listen carefully, it will tell you exactly what it needs. But it is hard to hear its signals if it is stressed out by stimulants. You may be experiencing pains and discomforts you would never imagine were caused by caffeine until they miraculously disappear after you quit coffee. The body's reaction to the toxicity of coffee can vary so greatly that you have to discover how it is uniquely affecting you. Look for improvements in your skin, digestion, sleep, mood, and energy among others. Don't be surprised if three months after quitting coffee, you discover you feel better than you've felt in years and your energy supply stays steady all day long. Then, if you have an occasional late night when you need that extra alertness to keep you going, use caffeine like any drug should be used - on occasion but never habitually.
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