What is Caffeine?
Many of us wake up the in the morning and our first thought is our morning cup of coffee. Some people take it for the taste, others due to routine. But for the majority it is for the caffeine. Caffeine is a natural stimulant found mostly in tea, coffee and soft drinks. It works by stimulating your brain and nervous system in order to keep you alert and reduce the onset of tiredness to the mind and body. It is recommended that up to 40 grams of caffeine a day is healthy for most adults. This is equivalent to around 4 cups of brewed coffee, 10 cans of Coca Cola or 2 ‘energy shot’ drinks.
1. Caffeine can Affect your Behaviour
It is a well known fact that caffeine can make people feel more awake, work faster and feel generally less tired. Caffeine enhances the dopamine chemical in the brain which helps control your motivation, emotion and movement. Therefore it can directly affect your behaviour by enhancing those signals. When you are tired, your body naturally will try to slow you down and stop you exerting excess energy and using up resources. However, with the caffeine in the system your body no longer feels tired and you are able to do so much more.
Now you may think this is great! I can do more and all I need is a few cups of coffee! However the flip side of this is that many people can become dependent on the feeling that caffeine gives them. As time goes on the body will build up a tolerance to the level of caffeine it is receiving. When the body is then deprived of this, it can lead to craving coffee. However, this isn’t for the flavour and rather the feeling it gives you. In turn you may experience withdrawal.
2. You Can Experience Withdrawal
Caffeine withdrawal is when the body is deprived and reacts in unpleasant way including headaches, tiredness, difficulty concentrating, nausea, muscle pain and irritability. The general rule of thumb is that these will be more severe the more caffeine you consume. These symptoms can occur 12 to 24 hours after the last caffeine intake and can last from 2 to 9 days.
3. Caffeine can Feel Additive
Although these symptoms are severe, it cannot argued that caffeine is ‘addictive’. When the body builds up tolerance, over time people may consume more to achieve the desired effect. This in turn can make people feel like they are addicted because they require that ‘hit’ during the day. However, the body is ‘dependent’ on the caffeine rather than being ‘addicted’ like it would to a drug.
4. Caffeine can Affect your Mental State
A range of studies have shown that withdrawal from caffeine has both physical and mental side effects. The mental effects can include dysphoria, delirium, nervousness, restlessness and anxiety. Many people will not associate the coffee they consume as a contributor to these factors. But in many cases caffeine can affect sleep cycles, and in turn effect many of these issue which require sufficient sleep. Although caffeine is a useful stimulant, in many cases people can overconsume and cause themselves more harm than good. As always, it is important to consume caffeine in moderation and intuitively decide how it affects your body. You may find you feel more tired but less anxious if you reduce your caffeine intake.
5. There are Ways to Reduce Withdrawal Symptoms
Although this is difficult, there ways to reduce caffeine withdrawal symptoms. There is no quick fix, but if you are experiencing severe headaches you can take an over-the-counter medication to ease the pain. My advice would then be reduce the amount of caffeine you consume in a day. If you are feeling particularly dizzy or nauseous, it is advised to take rest and remain hydrated. Increasing your water intake can help your body deal with the caffeine levels, and dehydration can lead to many issues. See my blog post on hydration for more info!
6. How to Reduce your Caffeine Intake
I have found the best way to reduce caffeine intake is to identify the source from which you receive it, whether that is coffee, tea, soft drinks or any other beverage or food stuff. Using the example of coffee, check how much caffeine you are intaking per cup and try to ensure this is at an acceptable level. Thereafter, try to wean yourself off the drink. If you drink 4 cups, try having 3 and substituting one cup for a decaf alternative. Your body may experience a placebo effect where it believes it receives a hit due to the associative conditioning between the coffee and the caffeine. As a result you may feel less affected by missing out that 4th cup.
Many people can consume a caffeinated drink out of habit. If you replace this habit with an alternative one, it may help you to reduce to 1 or 2 cups a day. Using decaf drink is a very achievable way of doing this and one I highly recommend. As a person who has reduced her own intake, I can tell you that it wasn’t easy but it was definitely worth it and I used this decaf coffee method. Remember than your body is an incredible machine and you can anything as long as you put your mind to it!
7. There are Incredible Benefits to Living Caffeine Free
Less anxiety and headaches
In my experience, I have had fewer headaches and felt much less anxious and irritable with reducing my caffeine intake. I feel much more in control of my own feelings and moods and I am not heavily reliant on a food or drink to make me feel ‘good’ or awake. It helps me to listen to what my body is wanting or telling me to do.
I also feel I have much better sleeps without it. My body feels tired at normal times and I feel much more rested the net day. This in turn means I have less of a need for a morning coffee the next day. I think this is an ongoing cycle that you can build on and over time you will definitely see the benefits.
Chemicals found in coffee, tea and soft drinks can definitely affect the colour of teeth and in many cases stain them. I am sure many of you are very particular about how your teeth look and so cutting out caffeine can definitely help with this.
More balanced hormones for women
I feel like this point should have a blog post all of its own! Women can especially benefit from being caffeine free as it can alter and increase oestrogen levels. Although this can change depending on your ethnicity, it can be particularly concerning if you suffer from conditions like endometriosis, breast cancers and ovarian cancers. This is because high oestrogen level are directly associated with the causes of these. Its been shown to also worsen certain menopause symptoms. As a result for the women especially try to reduce your intake if you can!
Caffeine has been shown to have a laxative effect and stimulate bowel movements. As a result consumption in large amount scan cause diarrhoea or loose stool. By reducing it you can help your mind and behaviour, as well as your gut and internal organs.