Okay, let's be clear right off the bat: I like a good cup of coffee. But unfortunately, it doesn't like me back. I'm super caffeine sensitive, darn it! I like tea and chocolate too, but even these I have to moderate. Caffeine comes in other forms too - sodas, energy drinks, supplements and medications. This stimulant is all around us.
So what exactly is caffeine? It's a flavorless chemical alkaloid that is naturally present in coffee beans, tea, kola nut and cocoa beans. It can be made synthetically and is often added to medicines, appetite suppressants and energy boosting drinks. Because it acts as a stimulant to the central nervous system, when you ingest it, you feel alert, awake and peppy. Caffeine has been shown to affect mood, stamina, the cerebral vascular system, and gastric and colonic activity.
Caffeine seems to have very individual effects. Some people can drink coffee all day long and never have any concerns. But for others, too much caffeine shows up as anxiety, insomnia, nervousness, irritability and a rapid or irregular heartbeat. If you aren't used to caffeine, it can cause a temporary but sharp rise in blood pressure. Other possible signs of too much caffeine include an overly acidic stomach, a change in eating habits, poor digestion and mood swings because serotonin levels in the brain may be affected.
Tolerance for caffeine seems to build up over time as our bodies get used to its effects. Sounds like a drug, doesn't it? That's because it can be! Since caffeine affects our bodies when we ingest it, it also affects our bodies if we stop ingesting it. Have you ever tried to give up coffee only to be hit by an unbearable headache? Withdrawal! Other symptoms can include depression, fatigue and an upset stomach. If you choose to give up or moderate your caffeine, I suggest doing it gradually by taking small, steady steps. (Unless, of course, your doctor advises you to go "cold turkey.") There are many good choices to help along the way.
- Choose soft drinks that do not contain caffeine (check labels: clear sodas can have as much or more caffeine than the colas).
- Better options for a "soda" fix: natural ginger ale or home-made spritzers made by combining sparkling water and pure fruit juice
- Read labels on energy drinks carefully - some can have more added caffeine than a cup of coffee. Be aware that kola nut, guarana and yerba mate also contain caffeine.
- Moderate chocolate. A 1.5 oz chocolate bar can have the same level of caffeine as a cup of green tea.
- Watch over-the-counter medicines. Some pain relievers add caffeine equal to more than a cup of espresso.
No matter whether you decide to go completely without or simply cut back, here are a few final tips to help your body adjust to a reduced amount of caffeine. Remember, treat yourself kindly while going through withdrawal.
- Be sure to get some exercise and fresh air to help revitalize your system and help you breathe deeper.
- Practice yoga, meditation, deep breathing or other relaxation techniques, such as listening to calming music.
- If you find yourself exhausted without caffeine and it seems to persist, consider a visit to a health care practitioner who can recommend supplements and natural remedies to support your adrenal glands and help to increase natural energy and well-being.
What's worked for you in moderating or kicking the caffeine habit? I would love to hear!