Caffeine: the disguised drug (almost) nobody talks about
I have been drinking coffee my entire life. As probably have you. Or as most of the people you know. It is taken as a fact that drinking coffee is almost obligatory – especially if you belong to the Rat race and need to be kept awake and alert – and that its advantages are endless: from preventing dementia and Alzheimer, to reducing the risk of diabetes or lessening the symptoms of such diseases as Parkinson, passing through making you happier (and therefore not depressed), cleverer and sharper and ending in helping burning your fat and improving your physical performance, it seems that this bean is the real black gold and the cure to all our problems. But the reality, as usual, is quite different…
Actually if you look in the internet for the disadvantages of drinking coffee, most of the times you will get it attached to the “pros” of taking it. The only cons usually referred are, first and the most obvious, that it makes your teeth more yellow, then, that only if you drink more than 3 cups you might increase your chances of having a heart attack and lastly, that you should only consume it in the morning, because if you do it later on the day, you might have some disturbance with your sleep, which can indeed become a insomnia in the mid/long-term. Aside from these “small points”, it seems that everything about caffeine is good and that there is no reason at all not to drink it, right? Well, according to my experience, wrong. In February this year, after spending one month in Colombia, I landed again into the depression land called Germany and I really felt my energy levels dropping in a very extreme way. Therefore, my initial reaction was to increase my coffee intake, as it would surely help in keeping up with the stressful daily routine. Well, one month later, there I was not only still lacking energy but also having strange symptoms, including a fasciculation in my left bicep which had started in the middle of the month and was already lasting for two weeks. On that moment, my neurotic side emerged and freaked me out by suggesting that those symptoms could be related to some degenerative disease but then, after the initial stress, I tried to rationalize and think what the origin could be. I was feeling quite anxious but, aside from the fact that I was among zombie-like (German) people and facing terrible weather, I simply had no reasons for that to happen, so I took both a step back and a deep breath and started looking for options. I first ordered some vitamins and supplements because, for instance, these fasciculations might be related to some lack of magnesium in the body, the general anxiety could be caused due to a deficiency of vitamin B in the organism and the low energy might have to do with the fact that someone lacks vitamin D, as one do not get the sufficient amount directly from the sun. But even if that helped – and it is still helping, as I have been feeling much better these last times – I felt that there was something more. So I decided to cut all the coffee and replace it by green tea. A couple of weeks later, my contractions on the left arm gradually began to stop and I started feeling much better. But since I am a very skeptical person who does not believe in things immediately, I took a deeper look at the topic of drinking coffee and, combining my personal experience and existing information on the internet, I came up with the “dark side” of the coffee and why it is not as beneficial as you may think:
- Coffee can cause insomnia and restlessness: most of the people rely so much on the short-term effects of coffee that they usually forget that it is also a hormone releaser – especially the so called “stress” one, such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine – which means that your body starts to have abnormal hormonal variations which consequently totally influence its general functioning. To put it simple, what you are doing is giving your body disconnected orders, meaning that in many cases he no longer “knows” what time of the day he is at, so by the time you should be tired and ready to go to sleep, he just keeps you awake due to the hormonal disorder you have created within you.
- Coffee stimulates the adrenal glands (quick tip: that is not good): the adrenal glands sit on the top of the kidneys and are responsible to release the previous referred stress hormones (epinephrine, also known as adrenaline, on the top of the list). What you are doing when you ingest a lot of coffee is basically to activate your “body’s fight-or-flight response”, meaning that you are totally subverting a natural process of the body since it is not responding to a true stressful situation (crucial for surviving) but to caffeine itself. So what happens overtime is that you are overusing these glands which can lead to adrenal fatigue, resulting in an unexplained, general low energy or even in a high stress/mild depression state.
- Coffee and its acidity can cause you digestive discomfort, indigestion, heartburn, reflux and general imbalances in gut flora: First of all, because of the various acids found in the coffee beans, by ingesting coffee regularly you are basically irritating your stomach and the lining of your small intestine, turning your body much more vulnerable to such diseases as ulcers or gastritis. Then, if you are a person who has a “fragile intestine” or even suffers from the irritable bowel syndrome, what you are doing is basically to increase the instability of your small intestine, by adding up the extra acidity which exactly your digestive system should avoid completely.
- You are “messing up your excretions”: if you did not know it, let me tell you that when you drink a lot of coffee you are interfering with your kidneys’ ability to retain important minerals such as calcium, zinc, magnesium and potassium, so when you urinate you are creating an imbalance in your electrolyte status. Needless to say that this can lead to serious systemic complications; concerning what you release when you “sit down”, coffee apparently speeds up the natural process of passing the stomach’s content into the small intestines, often before a proper break down of the digesting food. This simply means that it will be much more difficult to your body to absorb the nutrients from your food, aside from increasing the chances of irritation and inflammation within the gastrointestinal tract, leading usually to diarrhea or deregulated stools.
- Makes you addict to it, naturally increasing your anxiety and stress: Because of all the referred previous points, then it is totally logical that by entering this spiral of ingesting coffee, seeking this immediate boost and pleasure, you are simply causing great harm to yourself after the effect is gone. Sounds familiar? Yes, exactly as any other drug such as, for instance, heroine, you can only compensate the “caffeine hangover” by having another “dosage”, over and over again. So by always being looking for this “hit”, allowing you to have this small boost which you will help you completing your desk tasks for the next couple of hours, you are simply jeopardizing the stability of your mind and body, by putting them dependent on this jittery state. In the end, this process will never make you feel relaxed – also due to all the physical implications referred before (for instance, anytime you are turning on your stress hormones, you are conversely turning off the one which is responsible for maintaining the mood balance in the human body: serotonin) – rather making you feel totally anxious and stressed, “without any apparent reason”.
- It actually makes you more tired and numb: My mother is one of these persons who drinks four or five cups of coffee per day, reaching even the nonsense of drinking it at night, before going to sleep. Even so, she looks often tired, falling asleep many times in the sofa while watching TV and I used to wonder how could a person so addicted to caffeine enter that state. But now I get it and so do you: what caffeine does is to give you this boost (or false sensation) of energy for a couple of hours which, after its effects are worn off, will just make you feel more tired than you were, before putting the dark liquid into in your mouth. It is like putting your body into a roller coaster of ups and downs, when in reality it should behave like a regular carousel which goes up naturally and slowly goes down until you are finally tired and totally ready to sleep. It is basically this adrenal exhaustion, because you force your glands to give you more and more just to keep you awake, which leaves you with this almost irreversible feeling of fatigue.
Looking at all the above points, have you noticed how everything is connected and how such an “apparent harmless” bean can interfere with your entire body and, consequently, with your entire life? With this I am not saying for you not to drink coffee at all! All of us are humans and need surely a boost of this black energy once in a while. Even so, you should not rely on it to help you compensating the lack of sleep, the most important natural activity one can have to be fit and face the world with all of his tools. So after showing you the negative effects of drinking coffee, it is time to show you the alternatives you can have to live a life (or almost) free of caffeine:
- Reduce your coffee intake to maximum one per day and always take it in the morning, after the breakfast. By doing this, at least you will have this peak of energy in the morning, which will not interfere (so much) with your sleep;
- Replace it gradually by green tea, a much healthier option both due to its anti-oxidant elements and due to the fact that it does not “attack” your intestine and stomach in such a harsh way as the pure caffeine. In addition, it hydrates you, contrary to what coffee does;
- Take supplements of Vitamin B, C and D and Magnesium. As referred before, the advantages of taking these fantastic four are endless, especially if you both live in a country which can provide you neither enough sunlight nor such a good quality of food and you practice a lot of sports. Basically, all of these together help you in keeping your hormonal levels stable, meaning more energy and a better mood to face your everyday tasks.
Note: like everything in life, do not abuse on vitamins, as your body and mind can become addicted to them and in the end they can either lose the effect or even become harmful to your organism. So once in a while make sure you make a break of them, between one and two months.
- As said above, put as the maximum priority a good, complete night of sleep. I am not going to dwell on this topic, as I have already done it in this extensive article. But I left it to the end for a reason, and that is a reminder that most of the people focus on keeping themselves awake with artificial methods, usually failing to remember that there is this great, natural one which is the most effective of them all, costs nothing and actually saves you time (which is what does not happen when you sleep little, since you get consequently tired and then you spend the whole day looking for stuff to recover your energy)
The bottom line is that you shall always give priority to the natural tools your body provides you instead of just relying on artificial tricks which will only damage your well-being and health in the mid/long-term. Have you ever seen a cheetah drinking coffee to get the perfect level of energy and mental awareness before running after its prey? Yeah, me neither.