All through high school, college, much of my career in advertising, leisurely brunches with friends, lazy Sundays, and adventurous travels, coffee was always my friend and close companion. There were so many reasons I loved coffee. I loved the flavor, treasured the ritual, adored the coffeehouse culture, and of course, appreciated the jolt of caffeine. There was nothing like a hot cafe Americano with a splash of half and half on a cool fall morning, a full pot of French press on a lazy Saturday, an icy glass of cold press on a hot summer day, or a cup of dark roast after dinner. If was staying away from home, and didn't have access to my own French press or espresso machine, I was scouring the sidewalks to find cup of the good stuff almost immediately after waking. When I stayed with a friend down in my old college town, I would walk to the gas station before anywhere else was open to get my first cup of the day. Travels to France had me drinking café crème like each day was my last, and in Italy I frequently stopped in at cafes to stand at the counter with chattering locals and drink an espresso. When I worked in Maui, I probably drank my body weight's worth of Hawaiian coffee beans. After being introduced to it by friends, I all but ritualistically worshipped Turkish brewed coffee, rather like sticky sweet dark gold. And don't even get me started on how much coffee I drank on my first trip to Seattle, just before my health really went down the tubes.
Can you tell I loved coffee?
I've always struggled with moderation, and coffee was no exception. Looking back, I can see that I was totally addicted to caffeine. Caffeine is a powerful drug - especially for those with pesky addictive personality traits (guilty, as charged). To top it off, I had a constant supply of free coffee at work, so I didn't even break the bank fueling my habit. At my most addicted, I was up to around 6 or 7 cups a day, sometimes more. I just kept drinking....and drinking....and drinking....
As I got sicker from my then undiagnosed Lyme Disease and Candida issues, the caffeine helped me get the energy I needed to function. But eventually, I noticed the coffee was doing more harm than "good". It caused my heart palpitations to flare, my already weak digestion was further irritated by the high acid content, and my then frequent diarrhea was becoming worse (I am unmeasurably grateful that is no longer an issue). I was often jittery and anxious. Each sip of coffee would hit my stomach like a fiery brick and cause cramping and almost unbearable pain. I tried to cut back, but the withdrawal from not having enough caffeine was filled with headaches, dizziness, brain fog, and nausea. I was stuck between a rock and hard place - drink coffee and feel like crap, or not drink coffee and feel like crap. But it seemed easier to keep drinking than give it up, so that's what I did.
My symptoms finally got too bad to ignore - I was suffering a wide range of physical, emotional, psychological, and neurological issues - and I decided to take charge of my health. The caffeine was the first thing to go in my self-motivated elimination diet, even before sugar and gluten and dairy. The transition was really hard - the headaches, the brain fog, the lethargy, and the nausea felt almost unbearable (I've since learned that Herxing from Lyme treatment is WAY worse than caffeine withdrawal). I did my research and figured out ways to support my body while getting over the hump, and it helped. While the worst of it was over within a week or two, it took almost two months for me to really feel good in the mornings without caffeine. When I finally made it to the other side, I felt so much more clear, felt more in touch with my body, and was happy knowing that I wasn't dependent on anything. My digestion was better, my anxiety had lessened, and those pesky heart palpitations had reduced. Freedom! I was so proud. Then I moved on to gluten, sugar, dairy, and all those other allergens and irritants.
I have now been free of coffee for almost 2 1/2 years. Recently, I have started occasionally indulging in other caffeine-laden things like black tea, green tea, yerba mate, and chocolate, and I notice my tolerance for caffeine has certainly decreased. But I don't need these things, and I watch my symptoms to ensure that I"m not throwing my health into a tailspin. I feel so much better living without caffeine.
I recently found a bunch of stuff I had written for a coworker last year about how to wean off caffeine, and thought it seemed like a good thing to share. I fleshed it out a little, updating with things I've recently learned and other content I've found online. If you are looking to eliminate or reduce caffeine from your life, hopefully this will help.
Peace and blessings!
Reasons to Reduce Caffeine
- Caffeine can worsen Lyme symptoms, since it exhausts the adrenals, puts stress on the immune system, and causes inflammation, and can stimulate spirochete growth
- Caffeine can worsen Candida albicans and yeast overgrowth conditions, since it exhausts the adrenals, puts stress on the immune system, and causes inflammation, and can stimulate bacteria growth
- Caffeine can temporarily raise your blood pressure, meaning that individuals with high blood pressure or heart issues may experiences a worsening of symptoms.
- Caffeine exhausts your liver, kidneys, and adrenals, which is especially problematic if you are dealing with chronic disease or take large amounts of medications
- Many caffeine-laden beverages and foods like coffee, sodas, and chocolates contain high amounts of acid, which creates an environment in which bacteria thrive and leading to increased risk for ulcers, acid reflux, and other digestive irregularities
- Caffeine contributes in increases in anxiety when overused
- Sleep disturbances
Withdrawal Symptoms of Caffeine
Symptoms usually begin within 12-24 hours, and can reach a peak within 20-48 hours. In some individuals, symptoms may only last a few hours, in others, symptoms may last up to a week. As your body detoxifies and adjusts to life without caffeine, you may suffer from some of the following withdrawal symptoms:
- Generalized muscular tension
- Lack of appetite
- Lack of concentration
Quitting Caffeine Gradually
- Try a 10-30% reduction in caffeine every few days. For example, if you drink 3 cups of coffee per day, drink 2 – 2 ½ for three or four days, then decrease by another ½ cup for another few days, and so on and so forth. If you get your caffeine from soda, try reducing the amount of soda you drink in a similar fashion, replacing it with naturally carbonated kombucha, water kefir, or mineral water to satisfy your bubbly beverage desires.
- Substitute the missing coffee with decaf or other coffee substitutes. For example, cut your caffeinated coffee with decaf, or substitute a cup of coffee with a substitute. Again, make this transition gradually. For example, start by substituting ½ the coffee in one cup per day for a few days, then ½ the coffee in two cups for the next few days, and so on and so forth.
- Allow yourself a few weeks to gradually eliminate caffeine all together; a slow transition will be easier to stick to and will make withdrawal symptoms less severe.
Replacements for Coffee
Quit the caffeine, but not the ritual! There are lots of good substitutes for coffee.
- Decaffeinated coffee: good for keeping the coffee flavor, but still high in acid content, try using a low-acid alternative like herbal tea, or one of the other options below.
- Warm water and lemon juice: drink a cup of warm water with added lemon juice. Warm water and lemon will help detoxify your liver and kidneys from the caffeine and over-acidification that coffee causes on the system.
- Mild green tea: still caffeinated, but not as much, and full of good antioxidants.
- Black tea or yerba mate: still caffeinated, about 1⁄2 as much caffeine as coffee – a good way to start weaning off caffeine.
- Herbal teas (caffeine free): Honeybush and rooibos have naturally stimulating effects on the body, and a great rich flavor. Or, peppermint (stimulating, good for digestion and headaches), chamomile (soothing, good for headaches), or any other herbal tea!
- Root teas: Licorice, Chicory, Ginger. Licorice is good for supporting the kidneys in times of stress and is a natural stimulant, ginger helps soothe headaches, digestion, and is naturally stimulating, and chicory tastes a whole lot like coffee!
- Teeccino, Dandy Blend, or other herbal or grain coffee: many of these are gluten-free when brewed, and have a wonderful, coffee like flavor. My favorite is Dandy Blend, but Teecino is also very good.
- Miso: try a cup of warm miso in place of coffee. Just place 1-3 tsp of miso paste in warm water, stir, and drink. Nourishing, delicious, and an awesome source of healthy probiotic bacteria! I love South River Miso's chickpea or azuki bean misos, which are both soy-free.
Replacements for Soda
- Kombucha: naturally fermented tea that is full of healthy bacteria. MAke your own or buy it from the store - it is a great substitute for soda, minus the caffeine!
- Water kefir: water mixed with sugar that has been fermented with bacteria, it is bubbly and can easily be flavored with fruit or herbs. Make your own with water kefir grains from Cultures for Health. I was making it regularly earlier this year, and loved it. Like kombucha, it is a good source of healthy bacteria, and is low in sugar and caffeine free.
- Mineral water: purchase a high mineral content sparkling mineral water for the best health benefits. Add lemon or lime, a few drops of flavored stevia liquid, or mix with juices for a refreshing, sparkling beverage.
- Iced tea: brew a batch of iced herbal tea for a refreshing, caffeine free drink
Relief from Withdrawal
Caffeine weakens adrenal and liver functions, and the acidifying effect that coffee has on the system can gradually exhaust the body’s general ability to expel toxins and maintain a acid-alkaline pH balance. By reducing or eliminating caffeine, your body will start to purge built up toxins and restore full adrenal and liver function. There are lots of things you can do to help support your system and aid in detoxification, as well as reduce withdrawal systems.
- Drink lots of water, at least 8 cups per day.
- Get plenty of quality sleep.
- Exercise. This will help you sweat out toxins and naturally energize you.
- Saunas, skin brushing, and Epsom salt baths help draw toxins out through the skin and promote cleansing
- Acupressure. If you have a headache, pinch the area between your thumb and forefinger, and hold firmly for a minute or two. Do on both hands. Also, rub your temples firmly to help relieve pressure.
- Eat whole, nutritious foods - fruits, vegetables, legumes, unrefined grain products, healthy proteins and fats, and high fiber foods. Fiber will help to move toxins from your body and will stabilize digestion, which can be thrown off when in caffeine withdrawal. Fruits and vegetables will help to reduce coffee’s acidifying effect on the body, and will also help to flush toxins from your system. Avoid processed foods, sugars, and salt, as these will make your body retain fluid.
- Add extra fiber supplements, like flax, chia, or psyllium seed, to help detoxify the liver, kidneys, and bowels
- Raw apple cider vinegar tonic: mix 2-3 tsp raw apple cider vinegar (Bragg’s or Eden Organic) with 1 c room temperature or warm water and 1-2 tsp of honey. Drink first thing in the morning, or between meals. Apple cider vinegar helps to cleanse the body of toxins, kills harmful bacteria in the digestive tract, helps restore a proper pH balance, and supports overall immune system function.
- Maca: a tuber related to radishes, it is processed into a powder with a malty flavor. It is a natural source of amino acides, fatty acides, vitamins, and carbohydrates, and helps your body produce energy naturally, without any adrenal-draining side effects. It also helps balance hormonal imbalances. Add to smoothies, desserts, or stir into grain porridges, granola, or yogurt.
- Spirulina: a powerful microalgae, spirulina is detoxifying and a good source of natural energy.It provides many important nutrients and trace minerals to support your system, and is surprisingly protein dense. Add to green smoothies or take in pill or tablet form.
I am not a doctor, so please make sure to check with your care provider before adding supplements. Some supplements may have side effects with your current medication, or you may not need certain vitamins/minerals. While this is information I found through research, but should not take the place of professional medical advice.
- Vitamin C and B Complex Vitamins
- Siberian Ginseng and Panax Ginseng (a.k.a. Asian or Korean Ginseng) traditionally combined with licorice are considered adrenal tonics. Ginseng helps to support the immune system and restore a proper balance to the body, especially in times of stress or low immunity. It is especially helpful to strengthen the kidneys, which are often weakened from regular caffeine use. Take Ginseng in capsule or tea form; you can find ginseng-lemon-honey tea mix at the co-op in the herbal supplement section. Ginseng is a powerful supplement; use for 2-4 weeks, then take a break for 2-4 weeks before starting again, if desired.
- Licorice. Licorice tea can be found in the tea section. Licorice can increase blood pressure if overused; regularly drinking licorice tea for more than two weeks straight, especially if you have blood pressure imbalances, may cause risks.
- Gingko Biloba and Guarana are all natural stimulants and can be taken to boost energy when in caffeine withdrawal.
- Gingko Biloba and Gotu Kola and can help to restore mental clarity when you are in a caffeine withdrawal “brain fog”
- L-Glutamine: a powerful amino acid that helps restore cellular growth and is especially helpful for healing the lining of the digestive tract. If you've been burning up your stomach lining and disturbing your intestines with coffee, this can help sooth and heal your gut. Take in pill form, or for best absorption, dissolve pure powder under your tongue for 30 seconds then swallow with water.
The article “Nutritional Program for Caffeine Detoxification,” by Elson M. Haas, MD, at http://www.healthy.net/asp/templates/article.asp?PageType=article&ID=2046