By Alison Cassar
Caffeine addiction is the same as any other addiction. This is because caffeine is a powerful drug and giving it up successfully requires dedication, planning and organisation. Caffeine is found in coffee, tea, cola, chocolate as well as common medications for headaches and menstrual cramps. One of the most common reasons people have caffeine is for an energy boost. However, the manner in which caffeine works (by stimulating the adrenal gland to release adrenalin for an instant pick-up) means that over time, caffeine has the opposite effect. It gradually wears out your body and cells and leads to chronic tiredness and depletion of the adrenal glands.
If you have been consuming more than three to four cups of coffee (250-500mg caffeine) per day, then chances are you will have caffeine withdrawal symptoms when you decide to kick the habit. These can range between mild headaches, fatigue, intense cravings for caffeine, increased sweating, anxiety and constipation. If you make it through this period of discomfort (usually 2-4 days), you are likely to find that your energy improves far more than when you were having caffeine. This is the pay-off, but it takes a little time to get there.
Fortunately, there are things that you can do and take that assist you in your efforts to kick the caffeine habit once and for all.
1. Gradual reduction or cold turkey? This is only a question that you can answer. But first ask yourself; are you an ‘all or nothing’ person? If you answered yes, then chances are you will need to go cold turkey. If you prefer things in moderation, then a better strategy for you would be to reduce your intake gradually over a few weeks. There is no doubt that reducing intake gradually will result in fewer side effects and withdrawal symptoms.
2. Help to reduce caffeine cravings with tyrosine. This amino acid works on the central nervous system to increase levels of dopamine – the neurotransmitter involved in addictions and pleasure. This is also effective with any withdrawal from an addiction (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, gambling and so on). Use it according to dosage instructions. Its best taken on an empty stomach.
3. Avoid settings that you usually have a coffee in – morning tea in the cafeteria, meeting friends in cafes. These outings only need to be avoided in the beginning while you don’t feel fully in control.
4. Have replacements on hand. If you usually make coffee first thing in the morning, have a hot water and lemon drink instead, or a herbal tea. If you typically have a caffeine drink at morning tea, have a herbal tea, juice or smoothie. You will soon notice that making a coffee or tea was simply a ritual that you did at certain times of the day. If you can do something in place of that ritual, you won’t feel so deprived.
Please note: The information in this article is not intended to take the place of a personal relationship with a qualified health practitioner nor is it intended as medical advice.
Alison Cassar is a naturopathic practitioner and nutritionist and runs a busy clinic in Sydney, Australia. Her particular interest is chronic tiredness as it’s a very common presenting symptom in clinic. Her website and e-book whydoifeeltired.com/ explores the many causes of tiredness as well as solutions and prevention.
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