Health Guide: Staying Caffeine Free
Caffeine is a morning ritual well loved by many. If used in moderation as part of a healthy overall lifestyle, caffeine can be tolerated. What concerns most Naturopathic Doctors is when coffee is used as a tool to manage fatigue and “make it through the day”. If you find that you simply have to have caffeine in order to function, it is time to take a closer look at how caffeine is affecting your body.
Caffeine blocks a chemical called adenosine, which signals the body and brain to feel tired over time as it builds in the blood. Since caffeine counters this effect, a person may feel a temporary increase in energy but when it wears off a person will usually feel more fatigued. Also, caffeine stimulates the body to release stress hormones and it dilates blood vessels throughout the body. After it wears off, a person may feel anxious, light headed, or have trouble thinking clearly. The blood vessels that were dilated by the caffeine will constrict, often causing headaches.
Because caffeine also increases the production of stomach acid, long term use can lead to digestive disorders. Other long term effects include addiction and subsequent withdrawal symptoms. The long term affect on the body is so significant that, in extreme cases, the American Psychiatric Association recognizes four psychiatric disorders related to caffeine: caffeine intoxication, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder, caffeine-induced sleep disorder, and caffeine-related disorder not otherwise specified (NOS).
Here are some tips to use when going “caffeine-free”:
- Decrease caffeine slowly to reduce withdrawal symptoms.
- Switch from black tea to herbal tea. Rooibos is a good alternative because it is naturally energizing.
- Try coffee substitutes such as DandyBlend or Teeccino.
- Limit chocolate intake or replace it with carob.
Switching to decaffeinated drinks are not always the healthiest alternatives. There are several ways to decaffeinate tea and coffee. If a compound called ethyl acetate is used to decaffinate, only about 30% of the healing polyphenols remain in the tea or coffea. If caffeine is removed using a water-and-carbon-dioxide process, about 90% of the polyphenols remain. This process is more expensive and not common for most manufactured teas and coffee. Even with the decaffeination process, not all the caffeine is removed. Thus, decaffeinated tea is not truly a caffeine-free drink.
If you find it difficult to give up black, green or oolong tea, and you are trying to reduce your caffeine intake, you may be able to reduce caffeine by using the tea-wash method. To do a tea-wash steep your tea for 30 – 45 seconds. Discard this liquid, and steep the same tea leaves again. Due to the variability in tea leaves and tea blends predicting how much caffeine is left is impossible. One thing to be aware of is that you will lose some of the antioxidant properties of the tea leaves as well.