I grew up in a working-class family during the 1960s. My Dad was a logger who left the house at 4 am. There was a pot of coffee that percolated on the stove all day. I don’t recall the first time I tasted the dark liquor, but the rich, earthy smell is etched into my brain and I remember drinking it at a very early age. It is something I have loved it ever since. I love everything about it. The smell, taste, texture, the ritual of making and drinking it. And until recently, I drank it the way I did as a child, about 25% milk with a couple of teaspoons of sugar.
About a year ago, I decided to decaffeinate myself. We had been making a series of healthy choices and I was holding on to my coffee (caffeine) habit. I had decaffeinated before, but this time I was taking acidity into the equation, too. So decaf was out of the question.
Have you ever done caffeine detox?
It is miserable.
- 1 Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms
- 2 Where Does Caffeine Come From?
- 3 How Long Will Caffeine Last in My System?
- 4 Quitting Caffeine: Avoid Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms
- 5 Caffeine Withdrawal is Manageable
- 6 My Personal Story
Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms
Caffeine withdrawal symptoms start about 12 hours after you have had your last dose. I say dose, because caffeine is a drug, albeit the drug of choice for many Americans. It is seriously addictive.
It is the caffeine that is addictive. Studies have shown that even if you only have 100 mg of caffeine a day, about the amount in 1 cup of coffee, you will have withdrawal symptoms.
Not everyone experiences all of the symptoms. And they are worse for some people than for others. How much you consume and how long you have been consuming it impact how severe and long your caffeine withdrawal lasts.
In my case, I had drunk coffee regularly since childhood. Typically, I usually drank about 3-4 large cups per day – 2 in the morning, one after lunch and one about 3 in the afternoon. My withdrawal went on for close to 2 weeks.
The first thing you might notice is fatigue. Caffeine looks a lot like the neurotransmitter adenosine. When it is in your system, it binds to all of the receptors that normally receive adenosine. This leaves adenosine floating around in your system. Adenosine makes you sleepy. When you consume caffeine you will be energized for 5-6 hours. So when the caffeine wears off, these receptors are wide open, adenosine jumps in and you feel tired and sluggish. If you don’t have more caffeine, you crash. And over time, the body will produce more and more adenosine, so the impact is greater.
The worst symptom is a headache. Caffeine constricts blood vessels in the brain and slows blood flow. Some studies show that your brain on caffeine is deprived of up to 30% of its normal oxygen. When the blood vessels open back up, it takes a while for your brain to adjust to the increased blood flow. That is why you get a headache. As your brain gets used to the increased blood flow, the headaches subside.
Jitters and Anxiety
In addition, caffeine is a stimulant. It stimulates the hormone adrenaline. This increases the activity of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine and increases heart rate, blood pressure and the release of stress hormones. Consuming caffeine can cause jitters and anxiety, and detoxing from it can cause these, as well.
And if caffeine is accompanied by copious amounts of sugar, then you are detoxing from the sugar, too.
Lack of Concentration
One of the many reasons people consume caffeine is to increase their concentration. Adrenaline, dopamine and norepinephrine also stimulate the brain. Think fight or flight. You are on high alert! So, depending on the severity and duration of your withdrawal, it might take a day or two to get used to functioning without the caffeine stimulation.
Moodiness & Irritability
The energy boosting release of adrenaline is also accompanied by increased serotonin levels and a feeling of well being. People who try caffeine for the first time sometimes have a feeling of euphoria. Studies have documented that those who consume caffeine have a reduced risk for depression. So when you stop taking caffeine, you might feel a bit low.
Withdrawing from caffeine is in many ways like other types of withdrawal. As a dietitian, I have worked in Drug and Alcohol Rehab Units. It is common for people who are in withdrawal to lose their feeling of normalcy. In other words, they just feel off because their body is going through detox. They are physically, mentally and emotionally distressed because they are deprived of a way they are used to feeling. Homeostasis (the body’s internal ability to balance itself) is disrupted. If you have become used to being in a chemical-induced altered state and suddenly aren’t, it can be miserable and disorienting.
Some people also experience flu-like symptoms including upset stomach, muscle weakness, pain and stiffness, stuffy nose, chills and/or hot flashes, and constipation.
Ironically, while caffeine intake affects your sleep cycle, so does caffeine withdrawal. Let your body find it’s normal rhythm and you’ll sleep better at night.
Where Does Caffeine Come From?
Caffeine is a chemical compound that develops in various plants such as cacao, coffee beans, guarana, and matcha. It creates a bitter taste that predators dislike and is a survival mechanism for the plant. As mentioned above, it is a neurostimulator, so it acts on the nervous system of whoever consumes it. There are many foods and beverages that contain caffeine naturally. It is also added to a lot of foods and beverages.
There is some thought that the caffeine in different varieties of plants varies to some degree in its effects on the nervous system. For example, the caffeine in tea and chocolate may absorb more slowly than that in coffee.
How Much Caffeine is in Coffee?
The amount of caffeine in a cup of your favorite Joe will depend upon how strong it is made and how it is roasted and prepared. However, the caffeine in a 12-ounce cup of coffee generally ranges from 100 to 180 mg. A tall Starbucks has a whopping 260 mg of caffeine.
How Much Caffeine is in a Shot of Espresso?
Espresso is a concentrated coffee that has been prepared by pushing steam through darkly roasted grounds. Ounce for ounce, it is much stronger than coffee. It provides between 30 and 50 mg per ounce. This means that the double espresso you ordered, contains 60 – 100 mg of caffeine.
How Much Caffeine is in Decaf Coffee?
Decaffeinated coffee, or Decaf, has much less caffeine than regular coffee but it is not caffeine free. A 12-ounce cup of decaf provides 8-10 mg of caffeine.
How Much Caffeine is in Green Tea?
Green teas vary in caffeine content depending on the variety of plant, the development of the plant, the age of the plant when it is dried, and whether the tea is loose, bagged or powdered. How much tea is used in the preparation and how long the tea steeps also make a difference. On average, a 12-ounce cup of green tea will have between 42 and 75 mg of caffeine.
Jasmine tea is green tea with Jasmine flowers. Because the amount of green tea in the preparation is reduced by the presence of the flowers, the amount of caffeine may be slightly less than green tea.
Does Chai Tea Have Caffeine?
Chai Tea is an Eastern Indian tea usually made with black tea, spices, and milk. Black tea has a little more caffeine than the green variety but significantly less than coffee beverages. A 12-ounce cup of Chai Tea has about 60 – 90 mg caffeine. Again, the amount will vary depending on the tea used, how long it is brewed, and the ratio of tea to milk and other ingredients.
Decaf Black Tea has slightly less caffeine as decaf coffee or 5-8 mg.
Does Hot Chocolate Have Caffeine?
Hot chocolate is a well-loved beverage made with cocoa powder, sugar, and milk. Since the primary ingredient is cocoa, it does contain caffeine. A 12-ounce cup of hot chocolate contains between 8 and 25 mg of caffeine.
How Much Caffeine Do Soft Drinks Have?
Most 12 oz popular soft drinks have 35-54 mg of caffeine. In addition to a lot of added sugar, soft drinks are high in phosphate which pulls calcium from your bones.
How Long Will Caffeine Last in My System?
The half-life (the amount of time it takes to metabolize half of the chemical) of caffeine is 5 hours. This means that 5 hours after you drink your first cup of coffee (110 mg), you will still have 55 mg in your system. If you have a caffeinated beverage at 3 in the afternoon, you will still have half of the caffeine in your system at 8 pm and a fourth of it at 1 am. The caffeine from 1 cup of coffee will stay in your bloodstream as long as 36 hours.
If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or breastfeeding, you should definitely avoid caffeine. Pregnant women metabolize caffeine more slowly than those who are not pregnant. Some studies have shown that it’s more difficult to conceive if the woman drinks more than one cup of coffee a day. Guys are affected too. 3-5 cups per day result in abnormal and sluggish sperm. Fetuses and infants don’t metabolize caffeine, so it stays in their system for a long time. Some studies have shown caffeine in a newborn for up to 4 days.
Quitting Caffeine: Avoid Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms
Many people feel a headache first and immediately reach for an over the counter pain reliever like ibuprofen, acetamenophin or aspirin. These medications often use a significant amount of caffeine to help your body absorb them. So you want to use them very sparingly and read the label. They will feed your caffeine addiction and if used frequently may result in a rebound headache. Here are more natural ways to get through your detox.
Reduce Caffeine Intake Gradually*
As I explained earlier, blood vessels in the brain are constricted when you consume caffeine. When caffeine is eliminated cold-turkey, they rapidly open up. By reducing intake gradually, say over a period of 2 – 3 weeks, the blood vessels will expand more gradually and you will avoid a headache.
Get Plenty of Rest
Realize that you are not going to feel the morning buzz that caffeine gives you. Your adrenal glands have been overworked and are definitely due for a break. It may take a day or two to get back into your normal energy cycle. Cortisol levels are higher in the morning and for most people peak between 8:30 and 9:00 am. So when you are well rested, you will have more energy in the morning naturally. If its possible, taking a short nap (15-20 minutes) in the afternoon. That will give you the boost you need.
Have a Cup of Herbal Tea
Many herbal teas, including those containing Siberian or Panax Ginseng, licorice, astragalus, schizandra berries, Tulsi or Holy Basil, and ashwagandha support the adrenal glands and facilitate increased energy. Licorice will also help cortisol circulate for a longer period, meaning you will feel more sustained energy. Siberian Ginseng increases mental clarity. Rhodiola Rosea increases circulation and cortisol production. It also reduces depression, muscle tension, and fatigue. Even chamomile, usually associated with relaxation and sleep, in a strong brew, will nourish the nervous system and help you feel energized.
Silymarin or Milk Thistle supports the liver in detoxifying. Burdock and Dandelion are diuretics and help clear the kidneys. Gotu kola and Ginko help clear brain fog. Having a cup of tea may relax you and replacing your afternoon coffee habit will help your day feel more normal.
Take a Vitamin and Mineral Supplement
While caffeine stimulates the nervous system, several vitamins and minerals actually help you create energy naturally. Vitamins B 5, B6 and B12, chromium, potassium, Magnesium Aspartate, and Co-Q10 facilitate the production of ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate, your bodies energy currency) and facilitate energy flow. Magnesium will also reduce muscle cramping. Choline, lecithin, inositol, and Vitamin E support the bodies response to stress. Vitamin C is involved in Cortisol production, helps your adrenals recover and supports your immune system.
Inflammation in the body is combatted with cortisol. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce inflammation freeing up cortisol for energy.
Drink More Water
Anytime you are detoxing, you need to drink more water. Increasing your water intake will lessen your tendency to get a headache. Hot or cold water will help flush the kidneys and hydrate your cells including your brain. It also fills the need to have something to drink. Plain water will do the trick, but if you prefer a flavored drink, then add a few slices of lemon. You can also make diffused water with lemon, cucumber, mint, watermelon, raspberries or other fruit. Just drop them into the water and let the flavors meld with the water. It is delicious and refreshing.
Eat Fiber Rich Foods
Caffeine withdrawal headaches can be exacerbated by reabsorbing toxins from the gut if you get constipated. Drinking more water will help with that in addition to eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint oil is effective at relieving tension headaches. Mix 2-3 drops with 5-6 drops of carrier oil such as jojoba, coconut, olive oil, or unscented lotion and massage it into your forehead or temples.
Caffeine Withdrawal is Manageable
If you consume one or more caffeinated beverages each day, it is very likely that you are addicted. When you do not have caffeine available or stop taking it, you will feel withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms will vary in intensity and duration, including a headache, fatigue, lack of concentration, anxiety, moodiness, insomnia, and flu-like aches and pains.
Fortunately, there are many ways to manage these symptoms. Getting plenty of rest, eating nutritious, clean foods, staying hydrated, and supporting your kidneys, liver, and metabolism with herbal teas and vitamin and mineral supplements will all lessen the severity and duration of caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
My Personal Story
Over the past year, I have stayed decaffeinated. There are several caffeine-free coffee substitutes on the market and I tried them all. Most of them are instant. None of them made the grade. I found myself going back to coffee, albeit decaf, because it was that important.
These were my criteria. I wanted the ritual and to smell the aroma of brewing the coffee. I found tea to be thin and watery which is fine for later in the day. But first thing in the morning, I wanted a full-bodied, rich, dark roast. And I had to love it.
At this point, I am glad that I gave up coffee. I have not given up my love of the flavors and aroma, but I am happy to have my body in a much more alkaline state. It is a relief not to be dependent upon an addictive stimulant. I sleep better, am less tense and anxious, and am on a much more even keel in terms of energy, especially in the afternoon. Being off caffeine is worth it because I have found something that satisfies my love of coffee. I never believed I would not miss coffee, but I don’t.
The only natural coffee alternative I have found that met all of my criteria is Teeccino. The main ingredients are organic Chicory, Carob, and Dandelion and it tastes and feels delicious. It also brews just like regular coffee or you can get it in tea bags if you prefer. But unlike other coffee substitutes, Teeccino has the aroma, richness, and taste of coffee. They have many satisfying flavors and it is a much healthier choice. I enjoy Teeccino every morning (and sometimes in the afternoon.)