Caffeine Addiction: Your Body Needs a Coffee Break

“I like coffee because it gives me the illusion that I might be awake.” -Lewis Black

I can feel the head shakes, the “No ways!” and all the “Uh-huhs” through the screen. If you want to be more present, purposeful and at peace, it’s time to assess your caffeine intake.

That said, I love coffee.

I like to start my day with a strong drip brew, a cappuccino for my afternoon pick-me-up, and if I’m feeling particularly brazen, a cafe con leche, slightly sweetened. Every morning I wake up to a ritual that not only gets me out of bed, but makes me smile. 

The ground beans are kept fresh in an air-tight container and stored in the freezer, for extra protection. I don’t keep my jewelry as well guarded as I do my coffee beans. The steps are sacred: boiling the water, pouring two heaping tablespoons of ground coffee, a quick whiff of the earthy, aromatic mix, and then slowly pouring the piping hot water on top. 

However, having moved from Boston, the home of Dunkin’ Donuts where “America runs on coffee,” to Spain where people drink unlimited ‘cafe con leches’ throughout the day, I had to face a hard truth. 

My coffee cabaret needed an intermission. My brain felt like a browser open with 15 tabs. I would listen to a podcast for a few minutes, check and respond to messages, open email and scroll Facebook all at the same time. 

Every night I crashed into bed like I had just run a marathon while simultaneously ringing the opening bell on Wall Street; I was everywhere and nowhere. I wanted to get work done, and play with my kids. 

But, with my mind racing and heart palpitating, it was clear my body needed a caffeine break. 

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

This is where things start to get hazy.

There is no scientific consensus on what constitutes too much caffeine. Your doctor probably advises to drink in moderation.

But what exactly is moderation?

According to Mayo Clinic, most healthy adults can safely consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day. Some studies report a 170 lb. man could detoxify 300 mg of caffeine over the course of a day. Now what if it’s a 110 lb. female, or a man with diabetes, or any adult under some degree of stress?

What constitutes ‘healthy’ and ‘adult?’ The terms are up for interpretation. 

Even more confusing, the majority of research interprets a cup of coffee as six ounces. However, most people drink from mugs that are around 12-14 oz. or more! 

And, if you swing by your favorite coffee shop, their standard serving size is a whopping 16 oz. A lot of us are drinking far more caffeine than the recommended amount, even if we call it “just a cup.” 

And that one cup of java will start to add up as your body will develop a tolerance for caffeine. Other variables, such as age, body mass and general health, will also determine your caffeine tolerance. 

There is no one size fits all caffeine consumption for everyone.  

5 SIGNS YOU’VE HAD MUCH TOO MUCH

1. Anxiety

Feeling a bit jittery or anxious after your morning cup of coffee? It’s not all in your head, that may be the caffeine taking effect. It works by blocking the action of adenosine, a chemical in the brain that causes a feeling of fatigue.

Adenosine helps to regulate the neurons in our brain from overfiring. If we block that receptor, guess what? It’s like a Star Wars battle to the finish, the brain just keeps firing and firing and firing, with no ability to slow down, rest and recuperate. At the same time, it releases adrenaline, the hormone associated with increased energy. Thus making us anxious, hyper and stressed. 

2. Waking Up Tired 

Do you wake up groggy and think it’s because you haven’t had coffee? It’s more likely the coffee you had the day before that prevented you from getting a full night’s rest. Studies show caffeine actually disrupts the part of our sleep cycle that gives us dreams

It’s the deepest part of the cycle, Stage 4 (S4), and coffee is not letting us reach it! S4 is the stage at which we repair and rejuvenate. It’s when our cells rest, reconstruct, and restore. 

And before you start your brew first thing, know that you are disrupting your body’s natural cortisol production that helps you wake up without caffeine. 

3. Digestive Issues

Many people find that a cup of coffee in the morning helps to stimulate their digestive system. The laxative effect of coffee has been attributed to the release of gastrin, a hormone released by the stomach that accelerates colon activity. 

If you are relying on that cup of coffee for bathroom regularity, your body has developed a tolerance and reliance on gastrin. Better to get your laxative from fruits and vegetables. 

4. Stressed to the Max

While we all have our fair share of work deadlines, family commitments and bills to pay, there is a difference between natural stress and caffeine-induced stress. Daily caffeine intake elevates the most famous stress hormone in our body, cortisol. 

Elevated cortisol from only 300 mg of caffeine can stay in our body for 18 out of 24 hours. We are unnaturally stressing ourselves out for 75% of the day. Brain fog, unable to focus, are all signs of elevated cortisol.

5. Brain Fog

For a drink that’s meant to make us more alert and clear-minded, it may just be the culprit itself. 

Caffeine causes a severe decrease in proper cerebral blood flow (CBF). One study noted an average reduction of 27% in CBF. 

This condition, known as “vaso-constriction,” quite literally is constricting the flow of blood to our brains. When our brains can’t get free flowing blood, imagine what it’s doing to our memory, mood, and ability to comprehend and learn. It’s no wonder we can’t concentrate, our bodies are not running at full capacity.

___

These are just 5 out of several other conditions attributed to heavy caffeine intake. Others vary from hypertension (high blood pressure), anemia to depression. 

There is no unanimous consensus on how much caffeine is normal for any one person. With so many variances in body type, age, gender, health status, it’s an individual decision based on how you feel

At the very least, consider reducing your intake and remember caffeine is not just in coffee. Chocolate, black tea, green tea, energy drinks, cola all have significant amounts of caffeine and when consumed together quickly adds up.

And did I give up my coffee habit?

I did go cold turkey for 3 weeks and I couldn’t believe I wasn’t experiencing my usual 3 pm tired slump. I was ready for a nap every day at 3 pm. 

But since giving up caffeine, I am solid and naturally energized throughout the day. 

I now only drink a small 4 oz. cup if I find myself out at a cafe, otherwise no more.

And my teeth even thank me, with a whiter smile.

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