What would you say if someone accused you of being addicted to a stimulant, and taking large doses of it on a daily basis?
Well, the truth might be a little closer to home than you realize. Caffeine is a highly addictive substance, and many of us crave and consume it in large amounts.
We start taking these stimulants to give us a lift in energy, and there’s no doubt that’s what they do. But the problem with caffeine is that the energy it gives us is short-lived. We’ve all experienced the up-and-down energy swings that are associated with regular coffee drinking. Each high is followed by a low, and (if we’re not careful) each low prompts us to ingest more of that same stimulant.
So are we actually getting more energy from caffeine, or are we just reapportioning the limited energy that we have into peaks and troughs through the day? Many Adrenal Fatigue sufferers find that their coffees have less and less effect over time. The peaks become less fulfilling and the troughs start crashing even lower. To compensate, they consume more stimulants (larger coffees, more sugary snacks), but eventually, even those become ineffective. To treat Adrenal Fatigue effectively, avoiding caffeine is one of the first things that you need to do.
Overstimulation For Your Adrenals
What happens each time you drink a cup of coffee? Your brain sends a message to the pituitary gland, which releases a hormone that tells your adrenals to produce the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. In other words, you are triggering exactly the same kind of stress response that your body uses when you are in imminent physical danger.
If you only have the occasional cup of coffee, your adrenals will be able to react quickly and capably to this kind of stimulation. But if you are drinking several cups of coffee each day, you start to notice a weakened reaction. Some people might say that their ‘tolerance’ has increased, or be proud that their body just processes it better, but the truth is somewhat different. After long-term and repeated doses of caffeine, your adrenals are simply weakened and less able to respond adequately.
In a 2005 study, researchers gave three groups of subjects a 0mg, 300mg or 600mg dose of caffeine each day for 5 days. Then on the sixth day, they gave each subject a morning and afternoon dose and measured their bodies’ cortisol response. The results? Those who had been abstaining from caffeine saw large spikes in cortisol on the sixth day. On the other hand, those who had been ingesting caffeine each day saw no cortisol response at all on the morning of the sixth day, and only a reduced response in the afternoon. In other words, their adrenals are not responding to the caffeine in the way that they should.
Giving up that morning cup of tea, coffee or caffeinated soda might sound daunting, but it’s an important part of recovering from Adrenal Fatigue. Many of us experience short-term withdrawal symptoms from caffeine, but they are generally gone within a week. After quitting coffee, most Adrenal Fatigue sufferers report a more even, consistent energy level throughout the day, without any of the crashes associated with caffeine intake.
5 Ways to Reduce Your Caffeine Intake
If you’re tired, don’t reach for another coffee. No matter what time of the day you have your ‘caffeine hit’, it will have the same stimulating effect on your heart and adrenal glands.
And if you’re already fatigued, the effect of caffeine is even more taxing. Instead of allowing your body the rest that it needs, you’re forcing it to work even harder! You might feel like you’ve regained some energy, but this is only temporary. Once the caffeinated boost wears off, you’ll be more exhausted than ever.
If you’re tired, rest! It may be difficult to get out of the habit of dosing up on caffeine when you hit that energy slump, but your adrenal glands will thank you for it.
Here are some tried-and-true tips for reducing your caffeine intake:
While it may sound counter-productive to do more physical activity to boost your energy levels, that’s exactly what exercise does! Being active for 30+ minutes a day increases your cardiovascular output, which means your heart pumps blood and oxygen around the body more efficiently. You’ll feel more energized, more focused and more positive. You won’t even think of grabbing another coffee!
2. Go to bed earlier
Getting out of bed early for work or school will, of course, make you feel tired, especially if you’ve had a late night. That’s where most people can justify a cup of coffee to ‘wake up’. The easiest way to reduce this need for a caffeine boost is to get more sleep – by going to bed earlier! Try to get at least 7-8 hours’ sleep a night. Set a bedtime routine and stick to it. Avoid any caffeine after midday, so that you don’t have trouble falling asleep when you do go to bed.
3. Rise earlier
Sometimes, a morning cup of coffee is just a habit – and habits can be broken. Try setting your alarm for half an hour earlier than usual so that you can rest in bed and allow your body to wake up naturally. This is far more nourishing to your body and mind than a sharp hit of caffeine! You could also try a glass of hot water with a squeeze of lemon juice. This stimulates your digestive system and refreshes you from the inside out.
4. Try low-caffeine alternatives
If you’ve been hooked on caffeine for a while, going ‘cold turkey’ can result in some unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. That’s why it can help to wean yourself off caffeine slowly by replacing it with drinks that contain smaller amounts. Green tea is a great example.
Although it contains about a third of the amount of caffeine as in a cup of coffee, green tea is also rich in antioxidants that provide numerous benefits to your health. It will also help with detoxification! In fact, just drinking a hot beverage at the same time you’d usually have your coffee can have the placebo effect of making your brain believe that you’ve had your normal amount of caffeine.
Another option is to continue drinking your coffee but gradually reduce the strength or the number of cups you drink each day.
5. Reward yourself
This one takes some personal willpower! Set a goal to go without coffee for a month. If you get through the month without a single coffee, reward yourself with something really special, like a new pair of shoes or a (non-caffeinated) treat. You may have even extra money to spend from not buying coffee! Tell your friends and family about your goal so they can keep you accountable. Of course, once the month is up, you’ll realize how it IS possible to go without coffee and you won’t need to go back!
Do You Recognize These 7 Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms?
Depending on your level of ‘addiction’, you may or may not experience the following symptoms:
Headache: Like a hangover headache, this can start behind the eyes and move up through your temples. Drinking lots of water can help.
Lethargy and daytime sleepiness: You’re tired all day and may even struggle to keep your eyes open. This will pass after a few days.
Irritability: Mood swings and an inability to tolerate even the smallest problems can really strain relationships, in the short term.
Constipation: Some people rely on their morning cup of coffee to get things ‘moving’, so this may take a while to overcome. Your digestive system will need time to adjust, but will ultimately be healthier.
Depression: If your daily cups of coffee help you to feel better, you might temporarily feel somewhat low and depressed without them. However, remember that caffeine does not really make people happier in the long run. Although caffeine does lift your mood by stimulating dopamine, it also depletes serotonin and will ultimately cause you to feel worse.
Muscle pain or stiffness: Some people use caffeine to boost their exercise performance. Without it, it can be more difficult to get moving at the gym or while running. As time passes,
Poor concentration and brain fog: Caffeine is often used to improve focus when studying or paying attention in a meeting, so you may find your mind wandering.
4 Delicious Substitutes for Coffee
One of the best ways to deal with caffeine withdrawal symptoms is to use a healthy substitute. With more people aware of the dangers of caffeine addiction, there are now loads of healthy alternatives on the market.
Currently an ‘on-trend’ health drink, kombucha is readily available in many cafes and health stores. It’s a type of tea made using a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). Together with water and sugar, the SCOBY creates a fermented beverage that’s both delicious and bubbling with nutrients. The sugar is fermented, so kombucha is actually quite low in calories. It does contain a very small amount of caffeine, but far less than a coffee.
- Yerba Mate
This traditional South American beverage is one of the healthiest in the world. It contains only about a third of the caffeine in normal green tea, but a huge variety of antioxidants and other nutrients. It can be prepared and consumed hot or cold, in a variety of ways: in a coffee machine, a tea infuser or a French press.
- Herbal tea
Many herbal teas are not only totally caffeine-free but harbor all sorts of therapeutic properties. Peppermint, chamomile and fennel tea are great for digestion and can be drunk separately or in combination. Licorice tea is a deliciously sweet beverage that also provides nourishment for the adrenal glands and digestive system. Passionflower helps to reduce nervousness, anxiety, and insomnia when drunk at night, while rooibos tea is often used as a healthy caffeine-free replacement for ordinary black tea.
- Coconut water
Deliciously sweet, coconut water comes from young green coconuts and is packed with beneficial electrolytes. This makes it a fast, healthy way to not only rehydrate but also satisfy any sugar cravings! It also contains several bioactive enzymes and some trace minerals, so it works well as a replacement for sugary artificially-colored sports drinks.
Not sure how to give up your morning coffee and reduce your caffeine intake? Our adrenal fatigue recovery program contains lots of tips on improving your diet, finding good coffee substitutes, and (most importantly) getting your energy levels back!