When we think of stimulating drugs, we tend to think of illegal substances and shady activity, when in fact, many of us are voluntarily consuming a stimulating drug every day, whenever we take a sip of our morning coffee or pour ourselves a cup of afternoon tea. Caffeine isn’t illegal and is enjoyed by many people, however, for some, it’s effects can cause more harm than good. So whether you want to sleep better at night, dislike the caffeine jitters, or just want to take a break from the effects of caffeine for a while, here’s everything you need to know about giving up caffeine.
What is caffeine?
Caffeine, whose chemical name is trimethylxanthine, is a central nervous system stimulant, which works by stimulating the brain, giving a feeling of restored alertness and awakeness. Although a substance that is deeply ingrained in our popular culture, caffeine is a drug and shares traits with amphetamines such as cocaine and even heroin and so it’s important that people understand the effects that misusing it can have on their body.
Where can I find caffeine?
When people think of caffeine, they often think of coffee, but natural caffeine is also found in a number of foods and drinks that we consume on a regular basis, including tea, chocolate, and cola. Food companies have also jumped on the bandwagon, creating ‘energizing’ and ‘boosting’ versions of products like beef jerky, oatmeal, and even sunflowers seeds, all of which have been laced with caffeine, so it’s worth checking the label. Look at the back of many medications and you may also be surprised to see caffeine listed as a key ingredient, providing a pick me up to those looking for pain relief or a little something to help them tackle a nasty cold or the flu.
Is caffeine bad for you?
This question is a tough one to answer, but most people tend to agree that although consuming a safe amount of caffeine a day (400mg) isn’t directly bad for you, drinking less caffeine is definitely better for you. But what does that actually mean?
What does 400mg of caffeine look like?
Drinking up to 400mg of caffeine a day is widely considered to be safe for most adults, but the problem is that food and drink manufacturers aren’t obligated to declare the caffeine content of their products on the label and so it can be hard to know how much you are consuming. In general, 400mg equates to 10 cans of regular coca-cola, 8 cups of black tea, 4 cups of coffee or 2 energy shot drinks, which means that if you are a keen coffee drinker or like to refuel on cans of energy drinks, then it can be easy to go over the recommended 400mg limit. To make things even harder, not everyone reacts to caffeine in the same way and so although a 400mg limit may be safe for one person, it may be too much for someone else.
What effect does caffeine have on the body?
Caffeine is a stimulant which means that as soon as it enters the body it begins affecting your central nervous system. Within 10 minutes, the caffeine you have consumed will have entered your bloodstream, causing your heart rate to increase and your blood pressure to rise. After 20 minutes, the caffeine ‘high’ begins, helping concentration and providing a feeling of alertness and by 30 minutes, motor neuron efficiency has been increased, making you feel more agile and athletic. Within the hour, you may also start to feel as though you need to urinate more frequently, this occurs because caffeine is also a mild diuretic, potentially causing dehydration if you are not hydrating with water throughout the day as well. It takes 12 hours for caffeine to exit your system, after which, you may start to experience caffeine withdrawal which will cause you to crave more caffeine and the cycle will start again.
The side effects of consuming too much caffeine
The side effects of drinking too much caffeine can be quite subtle and are often labeled ‘the jitters’. People can react to excessive caffeine e consumption in different ways but some of the most common side effects of consuming too much caffeine include:
- Getting a headache
- Raised anxiety levels
- Feeling cranky or irritable
- Needing to urinate frequently and uncontrollably
- Having a fast heartbeat
- Shaking or experiencing muscle tremors
- Struggling to sleep
- Feeling sick or having an upset stomach
Why do people choose to give up caffeine?
People choose to give up caffeine for a number of different reasons. Some people are not able to consume caffeine because it interacts with their medications, others are more sensitive to caffeine and experience unpleasant side effects, even when consuming it in low quantities, in which cases, these individuals may look for alternative herbal stimulants, like Kratom tea which can be purchased at a Kratom Wholesale, or peppermint. Pregnant women, or those trying to conceive, tend to reduce their caffeine intake to below 200mg per day or to give up caffeine altogether to help their baby’s development and to lower their chances of experiencing a miscarriage, and others like to give up caffeine simply because they do not want to put their heart or body under the stresses caused by the stimulant.
How to give up caffeine
Finding the source
Giving up caffeine starts with identifying the caffeine sources that you consume on a regular basis so that you can eliminate them or find lower-caffeine or zero-caffeine substitutes. Do you crave a morning coffee? Do you turn to energy drinks in the afternoon? Do you consume a lot of colas, tea or dark chocolate?
Once you have found the sources of caffeine in your diet, it’s time to decide if you are going to simply go without them, or if you are going to substitute them with alternatives. Some people find it easier to kick their caffeine habit by replacing their caffeine-laden products like tea or coffee, with decaffeinated alternatives, but it’s important to realize that decaffeinated tea and coffee still contain small quantities of caffeine and so you will not be giving up caffeine altogether. Here are some low and zero-caffeine alternatives to common caffeinated products
Decaffeinated tea still contains about 2mg of caffeine per cup, but this is a dramatic reduction when compared to regular tea-based beverages, If you are looking for a completely caffeine-free alternative, then try switching to a herbal tea such as camomile or peppermint, or something fruity like berry tea. Although these herbal alternatives may not taste exactly like your usual cuppa, they may still help to fulfill your craving by allowing you to continue the tea-drinking ritual.
Coffee is a tricky one to substitute like-for-like, and so if it’s the flavor you are missing, then decaffeinated coffee is the best place to start. A cup of decaffeinated coffee typically contains about 13mg of caffeine, which is substantially less than the 100mg for caffeinated coffee, and this way you can enjoy the benefits of decaf coffee.
If you need to go caffeine-free, then chicory coffee is one to try, as is dandelion coffee, or you could try switching to herbal teas.
The caffeine content of chocolate depends on its cocoa content, which means that dark chocolate sits at the top of the scale. If you are trying to reduce your caffeine, then milk chocolate contains just 9mg of caffeine per 1.5oz serving, and if you need to cut out caffeine altogether, then white chocolate is a safe bet as it contains 0mg of caffeine.
Soda and energy drinks
When it comes to soda like cola, going caffeine-free is relatively simple, simply switch to a caffeine-free version of your favorite brand, or alternatively try a fruit soda instead of cola. As for energy drinks, it really is best to give these bad boys up forever, so try switching to something else that satisfies the same craving like a caffeine-free soda, or flavored fizzy water.
You guessed it, sadly, giving up caffeine is often a bit of a battle, as, like any drug, your body may have become addicted to it and therefore could experience a degree of caffeine withdrawal. Usually, caffeine withdrawal is limited to those who have been drinking high amounts of caffeine (400mg or over) every day, in which case they may suffer from quite severe headaches, but even those who consume less caffeine may find themselves feeling a bit fragile. If you start to experience the symptoms of caffeine withdrawal, such as a headache, then stay hydrated and it will usually pass within a few days.
So there you have it, everything you need to know about kicking your caffeine habit. Remember:
- Up to 400mg is considered a safe amount of caffeine for an adult
- Drinking too much caffeine can cause side effects
- Some people have a lower tolerance to caffeine than others
- Even decaffeinated tea and coffee still contain small amounts of caffeine
- Cutting out caffeine can make you suffer from withdrawal but this will pass
So will you be giving a caffeine-free lifestyle a try? Let us know how you get on in the comments.