The Unhealthy Caffeine Fix

Unhealthy Caffeine In CoffeeTea and coffee are the major sources of caffeine in our diet, but there are significant amounts to be found in less likely foods such as cocoa, chocolate bars, drinking chocolate, cola, sports drinks, some desserts and ice creams. Caffeine is also important ingredient in some cold and pain relief medications. Without doubt, caffeine acts as a stimulant, which can stave off fatigue and enhance mental performance when we are feeling sluggish. It stimulates the heart, open the airways and can even aid digestion by stimulating gastric juices. However, there is another side to this most acceptable of drugs.

Stress And Stimulation

Caffeine acts like stress on the body, causing the physical symptoms of the ‘flight or fight’ response. It stimulates the adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol which, in turn, cause the liver to break down its store of glycogen and release it as glucose into the bloodstream. In response, the pancreas releases insulin, which helps deposit the blood glucose into the body cells. As calcium is needed to increase the heart rate, improve muscle contraction and thicken the blood, this mineral is mobilized from the bones. In short, the body prepares for action. The problem is that when we drink or eat caffeine, we are rarely preparing for any physical action. We are usually sitting down, eating and drinking, or having a cup of tea, coffee or cola at our desks to keep us going. In effect, the body has responded to a false alarm but the physical results of this state of alert remain the same.

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If caffeine were the only stressor in our lives then perhaps it would be less of a problem. However, the combination of stressors we all live with can make caffeine detrimental to our health.

How Much Is Too Much?

Medical experts advise us to drink no more than six cups of tea or coffee a day. However, many nutritionists believe this is far too much and it is certainly best for those with high blood pressure, circulatory problems and kidney disease to try quitting caffeine intake altogether. People who are trying to conceive should try to restrict their intake to one cup of coffee a day, while pregnant women and breast feeding mothers can also benefit from restricted intake. Caffeine can be transferred to babies whilst they are still in the womb and it is not unknown for them to have withdrawal symptoms after birth.

Unfortunately, caffeine is habit forming and can become addictive. The more we rely on caffeine, the more we end up needing it. Our adrenal glands can become desensitized to caffeine and the amount that would once have been a pick-me-up is no longer effective. But even before the adrenal glands become desensitized, it is common to experience swings in mood and energy levels. The sudden rise in insulin which results from an intake of caffeine can deprive the brain of glucose, leading to irritability, tension, confusion, dizziness, headaches and cravings for more caffeine or sugary foods, reinforcing the addictive cycle. Some people experience sleep difficulties as a result of this constant see-sawing. Others find it difficult to get going in the morning until they’ve had their first caffeine fix.

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Easing Up On Caffeine

If you have relied on caffeine for some time, whether it’s fresh coffee to pick you up or a bar of chocolate when you are feeling low, cutting down or giving it up can initially make you feel sluggish and tired. Some people experience withdrawal symptoms, including severe headaches, muscles aches and irritability.

The best way to adjust to having less caffeine is to reduce your intake over a period of weeks. Giving it up completely and going cold turkey is often successful, but it can be an uncomfortable experience. Researchers have found that the detoxification rates of similarly healthy adults can vary by as much as 500%, so a more measured approach to cutting down could be easier on you and your body.

It can help to include cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprout in your diet as these vegetables all contain chemicals that help the liver detoxify. Vitamin C found in plentiful supply in most fruit and vegetables, and Vitamin B1 and B3 found in wholegrains, seeds, nuts, vegetables, beans, lentils, eggs and milk also help to remove damaging toxins. Ensuring you have a healthy diet, drinking 1.5 to 2 liters of water a day, and minimizing your exposure to other pollutants, can ease and quicken the withdrawal process.

The Caffeine Alternatives

For people who enjoy hot drinks, there are plenty of tasty, caffeine free options, such as organic herbal teas, fruit teas, rooibos tea and a wide variety of herbal coffee alternatives based on barley, chicory and rye.

Decaffeinated coffee is another option. Caffeine is removed from the coffee beans using one of three things – chemical solvents (which may leave low levels of residue behind), water or carbon dioxide.

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However, decaffeinated coffee will still contain very low levels of caffeine and two other stimulants – theobromine and theophylline.

Caffeine Content

Per 150ml/cup:

  • Ground coffee – 115mg
  • Instant coffee – 115mg
  • Decaffeinated coffee – 3mg
  • Tea – 40mg
  • Decaffeinated tea – 3 mg

Chocolate, per 225g bar:

  • Dark chocolate – 160mg
  • Milk chocolate – 40mg

Painkiller tablet – 30mg

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11 Responses

  1. Fascinating post for someone like myself who is a coffee addict. Thanks to Starbucks.

  2. Jaci says:

    “Medical experts advise us to drink no more than six cups of tea or coffee a day.” WOW that is a lot! I know my body can’t handle that much…I have cut back a lot to get my migraines under control. Thankfully there are a lot of good caffeine-free drink options out there…from tea to flavored water, or even carbonated beverages like Tava.

  3. Jen says:

    Wow! What a great post! I’m a total caffeine addict. I won’t even admit how many cans of soda I drink every day. Thanks for the helpful tips on how to cut back on my caffeine consumption.

  4. Keith says:

    I get terrible headaches when I ween off coffee. I didn’t know it triggered the release of cortisol. I better stock up on the tylenol then cause I’m quitting.
    Again lol

  5. ChrissyJo says:

    Very interesting. I am having trouble trying to quit drinking soda. I gave up meat cold turkey and did fine but soda, can’t do it. I am down to one 8oz can of soda per day but I do get withdrawal headaches.

    • borzack says:

      You can try using substitutes, if you want to limit caffeine, try other sodas like Root Beer or Sprite, if you want to limit the sugar, try diet sodas. Treat the withdrawals like flu or cold. Give yourself extra time to sleep. You’re hopped on caffeine and sugar for so long that your body need to re-adjust and remember what it’s like to wake up naturally. These withdrawals will pass, just be patient with yourself.

  6. Coffee Lover says:

    About 6 months ago I decided to kick the coffee habit. It was hard. I got a lot of headaches initially and would be dragging throughout the day without my caffeine pick me up. But after about a week the headaches went away and my natural energy levels kicked up. And I have to tell you, it feels great! I love not being bound to my morning coffee.

  7. Kristina says:

    I need to stop drinking so much coffee when I’m at work… I start getting headaches after 2-3 cups, then when I get home I can’t even sleep anymore. Hmm, and when I don’t drink coffee I just feel extra sluggish, even after 7-8 hours of sleep.

    It’s like going through coffee withdrawal, even though I know I’ll feel much better after a week completely sans coffee.

  8. ya i do agree. caffeine is actually a kind of drug used in coffee. when a person intake it slowly they will get addict to take it ofen. so its better to have coffee with control( not ofen drinking).

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