Caffeine: What It Is, the Side Effects, and How to Break the Addiction
What is Caffeine?
Caffeine is a chemical found in some plants that acts as a natural pesticide to paralyze and kill the insects that feed on the plant. Fortunately, when consumed by humans, the effect of caffeine is different.
In humans, caffeine acts as a stimulant, temporarily warding off drowsiness and restoring alertness. Caffeine is the world's most widely consumed psychoactive substance. It is found in many products, including coffee, tea, some soft drinks, energy drinks, weight loss products, pain relievers, and even in chocolate.
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The Effects of Caffeine on the Body
Caffeine rolls in and out of favor all of the time. Headlines in health sections of newspapers are always proclaiming the results of new studies regarding caffeine, leaving consumers baffled. Is it good? Is it bad? Who knows? Here are some of the pros and cons of caffeine consumption:
- Caffeine reduces the risk of Parkinson's disease by blocking receptors for adenosine, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in motor function.
- Caffeine can help to stave off migraines by contracting blood vessels in the brain.
- Coffee contains antioxidants, and seems to decrease the risk of ailments such as gallstones, colon cancer, liver cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
- Caffeine enhances athletic performance by stimulating the release of adrenaline, thus allowing muscles to work harder and longer.
- Caffeine consumption can help improve memory and mental function.
- Too much caffeine can be a contributing factor for high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and decreased bone density.
- Ingestion of too much caffeine can cause symptoms such as insomnia, tremors, nausea, chest pain, and palpitations.
- Studies have shown that pregnant women who consume more than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day (about as much as in a small cup of drip coffee) are at increased risk of miscarriage.
- Since caffeine stimulates the production of stress hormones such as adrenaline, overuse of caffeine may cause side effects such as anxiety.
I Don't Like the Way Coffee Makes Me Feel, But How Do I Give It Up?
As someone who has quit caffeine multiple times for various reasons, I know of only two ways to go:
- Wean yourself off slowly, or
- Cold turkey, baby.
In my experience, the weaning method merely prolongs the withdrawal symptoms, although those symptoms are less severe than when quitting all at once. I generally just prefer to get it over with.
Yes, I'm sorry to say it's true. The withdrawal symptoms of giving up caffeine vary in intensity from addict to addict but, in general, be prepared for:
- Headaches ranging from mildly annoying to migraine
- Muscle pain
As I said, gradually cutting back on caffeine seems to merely prolong the suffering of the above symptoms, so I prefer to go cold turkey. To that end, I present to you...
Em's Guide to Quickly Breaking Your Caffeine Addiction
** Please bear in mind that I am in no way whatsoever a healthcare professional, and my plan may not be medically sound. If you want serious advice, contact your healthcare provider before embarking on a caffeine detox. **
You will need:
- 3 day weekend
- Water. Lots of water.
- Your favorite pain reliever, as long as it DOES NOT CONTAIN CAFFEINE. I strongly suggest something of the "P.M." variety.
- Fritos (or other favorite salty snack)
Giving up caffeine cold turkey does not take long, but it's a fairly crappy experience. I recommend warning your spouse/partner/children/pets that, while you still love them, you will be miserable for the next few days and, for their own safety, they should stay far, far away.
Start the program first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Lock yourself into an empty room, preferably with an attached bathroom. Unplug the television and phone. Take some books or magazines and snacks (nothing containing caffeine, obviously) and wait. It won't take long.
The headaches will likely start by mid-morning, especially if you usually start your day with caffeine. As you approach the afternoon, the headache will likely intensify and be accompanied by severe crankiness, and possibly nausea. This is where the "P.M." formula pain reliever comes into play. Take and sleep. Keep yourself doped up through the weekend. When you are awake, be sure to drink lots of water and, if you feel like eating, snack on the salty stuff (Fritos are my favorite - they even help heal hangovers).
By the time you have to go to work on Monday, you should be past the headaches and nausea. The crankiness and fatigue might persist for a couple of days more, but by midweek you'll feel like a brand new person.
Once You've Broken Your Addiction...
Now that you've broken your addiction to caffeine, you can do one of two things:
1. Maintain your caffeine-free status and stick to decaf, or
2. Start using again.
Either way, if you're a coffee drinker, I HIGHLY recommend checking out the Keurig single cup brewing systems. Quick, convenient, and with far less clean up than a conventional coffeemaker, the Keurig is definitely the way to go.
Check out this hub by Sunforged to learn more about the Keurig.