Wednesday, October 5, 2011

COFFEE- a drug in a mug?

I could probably say that I know less than a handful of people who DON'T drink coffee on a regular basis. Recently I have been one of them. I had a long standing love affair with my morning cup of coffee which I have recently kicked- and not by intention. Is coffee good for you? Is it bad for you? That is what I intend to shed some light on.

For many years (actually over a decade) I have been drinking coffee every morning, and sometimes in the afternoons. I have tried to stop drinking it, craving it, wanting it. I tried switching to tea with no success. I tried stopping cold turkey- horrible disaster. Actually one time when I hadn't drank any coffee for a few days while I was sick, I developed really bad headaches. My doctor told me my brain was swelling, no joke. I was sick and on this medicine which had a "rare" side effects of brain swelling. She told me I had to go immediately to another doctor for testing. Well on the way, I stopped to get a coffee, and what'd ya know? My headache went away.

I don't know about you, but if I was a doctor, and I knew about caffeine withdrawal headaches, that is one of the first things I would ask my patient who was complaining of bad headaches- "How long has it been since you have had coffee?" Instead she sent me into a panic and ordered thousands of dollars of testing. That was an awesome experience let me tell you.

Anyway, back to coffee, and more importantly caffeine. I have been decaffeinated for about a year now, and I did it very slowly. I started mixing decaf into full strength 25/75 then 50/50 then 75/25 then all decaf. It was pretty easy and I didn't get any withdrawal symptoms. My reason for decaffeinating was because my anxiety was through the roof. Anyone who suffers from anxiety will benefit tremendously from cutting out caffeine completely. To give you an example. I was still heavily working on getting rid of my anxiety, but was already decaffeinated. One day I woke up and made coffee at the boyfriend's apartment, it was regular, and I completely forgot that I was not drinking regular coffee anymore. About an hour later I noticed my anxiety was through the roof and I couldn't get things done fast enough, leading to more anxiety (think when Magda from There's Something About Mary was on drugs and vacuuming).

Anyway, there are very real reasons why caffeine effects people's moods and stress/anxiety levels. I just read a section of Integrative Nutrition: Feed Your Hunger for Health and Happiness (one of the books included in the health coaching course I am taking) about coffee, caffeine, and how ridiculous we all are about it. Here are some snippits:

  • Coffee producers spend alot of time touting it's health benefits and ignoring the risks. It is said to enhance alertness, concentration, physical performance, and even prevent diabetes and cancer. Not sure about you, but I see plenty of obese people drinking coffee who I'm sure have some degree of insulin resistance - not sure about you but my common sense is not telling me to drink coffee to prevent diabetes. That is like telling people to eat whatever they want, take vitamins, and they won't get sick (topic for another post).
  • Caffeine inhibits absorption of essential minerals such as iron, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins. All very important for synthesizing energy in your body.
  • Caffeine wakes us up in the short term, but in the long term it disrupts the immune system from being able to defend against disease. 
"Coffee is simply a drug in a mug, presented in a more socially acceptable way than having a hypodermic needle stuck in your arm."  -Joshua Rosenthal, founder of Institute for Integrative Nutrition
Gary Null, PhD has "spent his entire adult life has been spent fighting for a better way for all of us to live." His website ( focuses on getting health information out to people who are concerned and want to take a proactive approach to staying healthy. He researches and writes about everything health related from vaccines to food born illnesses to the government's roll in food. I have had one of his articles on caffeine (Caffeine: Psychological Effects, Use and Abuse) for a while that I have been meaning to read, but haven't up until today. Here is a summary:
"Caffeine, probably the most widely used drug, affects the psychological state of those who consume it. It is a habit-forming drug in which tolerance develops. The fact that it is a drug with potentially powerful psychological effects escapes most of us who think coffee is a relatively harmless beverage. Caffeine has not only been considered habit forming, but also addicting."
"Caffeine particularly has a profound effect on the central nervous system, but it also effects to a lesser degree the heart muscle, gastric secretions, and diuresis (urine production). The equivalent of one or two cups of coffee (150-250 mg of caffeine) is sufficient to induce adverse effects." 
"Caffeine has a psychological half-life of three and a half hours to six hours. It's psychological effects are observed in less than one hour. Infants do not metabolize caffeine as well adults and thus have a half life of about 4 days. Certainly continuous ingestion of caffeine by infants can be dangerous. Caffeine can accumulate in severe liver disease when its half-life can increase to 96 hours. If these patients drink coffee they should be closely monitored."
"Caffeine is known to interact with other drugs resulting in modified effect. For example, caffeine administered with Nardil (an MAO inhibitor) caused headaches and high blood pressure."  
"Caffeine has a profound effect on sleep. Heavy and continued use of caffeine results in tolerance so that heavy users have less sleep disturbance or need more to obtain its stimulating effect." 
Well I can tell you from my experiences that if you have a tendency towards being psychotic (oops! I mean anxious) caffeine definitely has a major effect. I mentioned before that I kicked this habit and not intentionally. When I started making my morning smoothies, I would drink some right away and wait until I got to the office to make coffee. I am not exaggerating when I say that I just gradually drank less and less of my coffee every morning until I realized one day a few weeks ago that I hadn't made coffee in several days.

I still love the taste of coffee and drink a cup of decaf every so often, but I don't crave it and I sure don't need it to start my mornings anymore. AND the funny thing is that I have more energy since I started drinking fruit and vegetable smoothies in the morning instead of coffee.

All around a positive change I would say. :)

WARNING: If you are going to try to decaffeinate it very slowly over the course of a few weeks so you don't get withdrawal symptoms.

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