Charles Czeisler, a neuroscientist and sleep expert from Harvard Medical School explains: “When the nature of work changed from a schedule built around the sun to an indoor job timed by a clock, humans had to adapt. The widespread use of caffeinated food and drink – in combination with the invention of electric light – allowed people to cope with a work schedule set by the clock, not by daylight or the natural sleep cycle.” In addition, scientific studies have shown that the power boost of caffeine is connected with its interference with adenosine – a chemical in our bodies, which has hypnotic effect and works as a natural sleeping pill. Caffeine actually ceases adenosine and in this way our alertness gets increased and our sleep habits are disrupted. As we all know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch and we pay for this extra wakefulness.
Experts from the FDA claim that our health is in danger as long as the consumption remains between 200 mg to 300 mg of caffeine per day, which is equal to around two or three cups of coffee. They also say that caffeine contains components such as Niacin, Magnesium and Potassium, which play a vital role for our health: Potassium is essential for nerves function, Magnesium is of importance in our bones and teeth and Niacin aids in the metabolism of sugars and has an essential role for the proper function of intestines. If consumed moderately, caffeine acts as an anti-oxidant, sucking up free radicals. Unfortunately, the refreshing effects of caffeine urge us to constantly increase consumption in order to eliminate brain fog and fatigue.
Caffeine is an addictive drug, which alters our brain’s natural state and stimulates it in a manner similar to mechanisms employed by cocaine and heroin: it provokes a release of adrenalin, so that the body remains active and alert. It also manipulates dopamine production and that’s how we experience temporary high levels of energy; our productivity improves and we become more coordinated. Caffeine affects our whole body, stimulating the cardiovascular system, raising our blood pressure and heart rate. This process speeds up our basal metabolic rate and we burn more calories. As a result we obtain a wakeup jolt, because caffeine evokes a stress response in our adrenal hormones, the so called ‘fight-or-flight’ response. This is how our body prepares for action and remains in the state of alertness, no matter if we are sitting on our desks, or reading our newspaper on the sofa. When stress hormones remain elevated for long periods of time, our bodies experience chronic stress, which provokes exhaustion and craving for the next sip of coffee, coke or soda.
Exactly how caffeine affects us depends on many factors, including the amount ingested, our individual peculiarities (sex, weight and height, age) and whether we are smokers or non-smokers. Studies show that some people are more sensitive to its effects than others. However, when consumed frequently our body develops tolerance to caffeine and this represents a significant health risk. At doses of 600 mg, or 6 cups of coffee, caffeine can lead to:
- Restlessness and anxiety
- Heartburn ‘ caffeine is alkaline, which spurs the stomach to react by dumping more hydrochloric acid as a neutralizer
- Severe headaches and sweating
- High blood pressure
- Heart problems and rapid palpitations
- Muscle stiffness – caffeine increases the loss of calcium and magnesium, which has a negative impact on muscle tissues, impeding their relaxation mechanism
- Withdrawal symptoms may also occur, even when moderate amounts of caffeine are withdrawn for 18 to 48 hours. One may feel severe exhaustion, depression and poor concentration.
Strategies for reduction of caffeine intake and tips to give it up completely:
In order to gradually reduce the amount of caffeine intake a good tactic is to reduce the number of coffee cups by one every week (For example: 4 cups a day in the first week, 3 in the second, 2 in the third, 1 in the fourth). In this way the withdrawal symptoms will be much less severe.
Another strategy which can help our body get rid of caffeine addiction is to use less coffee. Every morning we should use put less teaspoons of coffee into our coffee machine, until it is so weak that we can live without it.
We can also switch to tea, as it has lower amounts of caffeine. Every day we can switch over one of our coffee breaks to tea. Once we achieve a successful transition to tea, we should repeat the process to transition to caffeine-free tea.
Sleep is a very important natural source of energy and that’s why we need to ensure a quality and regular sleep while we are transitioning to our caffeine-free state.
In addition we could include morning aerobic exercise, like cycling or running. This will make us feel full of energy, because sport unlocks the production of endorphins (one of the hormones of happiness) and we will be able to start our day on a natural high.
We also have to make sure that we don’t lose our connection with nature. In fact, many people suffer from depression because of the unnatural life our modern society leads us into. Thus, make it a ritual to go outside and deep breathe fresh air in the morning.
Change your diet. Drink orange Juice, or eat fresh fruits in order to nourish your body with vitamin C. Coffee is a habit. Replace it with a small glass of fresh pressed orange juice. Have a grain or oats based breakfast (with a low glycemic index). It will keep your brain nourished all morning. Avoid sugary breakfasts like donuts or high sugar cakes or muffins. They lead to a rapid buildup and slump in our blood sugar levels. Also, have an afternoon snack. Keep an apple or banana or a handful of cashew nuts ready for the mid-afternoon snack time instead of coffee. Finally, drink more water: carry a water bottle around and take sips regularly.