Wait…. really? Before you read on, go to google, type in “Happy Monday”, and see how many images pop up with coffee. Is that really what our happiness depends on for the week?!
Who woke up this morning and was thinking about coffee before their eyes were completely opened? Anyone out there craving that “jolt” mid-afternoon? As much as you want to convince yourself that you need it, those feelings should not be your norm. No doubt there are some health benefits associated with coffee, but not in the quantity that many Americans are consuming it, and not that large of benefits to let it run our lives. For my second stress management post (and for the next two weeks) I am zeroing in on the effects of caffeine and stress hormones.
My worst coffee addiction was in grad school. I will never forget my food service rotation at Niagara falls. Waking up before the sun was up to drive there from my East Amherst, NY apartment wasn’t the only problem. I despise hospital food service (no offense if that is your career, its just not for me) and would go from there to afternoon classes, and then drive to coach swimming at night. It was the end of the first semester and finals were at the end of the rotation so studying was clearly taking up big chunks of time too. Additionally, the only way I knew to manage stress then was exercise so I tried to carve time out for that too. So, sleep? What sleep? This is also the time in my life when I had my first anxiety attack. I didn’t make the connection then but now looking back, I was probably drinking over a pot of coffee each day, was not sleeping, and was never seeing the light of day while in Buffalo (a later post will touch on Vitamin D and hormones). Thank God I never tried energy drinks!
Now, I advocate to all my clients, students and seminar attendees to pleas please please have a tall glass of water first thing in the morning. Then sip throughout the day to prevent thirst. Water alone should be energizing for your body and mind. Caffeine gives that jolt to many people but doesn’t necessarily offer a real energy that the body should ride on all day. Think caffeine doesn’t effect you and that you just like the taste? Can you have an espresso and within minutes “fall asleep”? Well then, try going without it! Are you afraid of headaches, shakiness, etc? If someone you knew couldn’t stop drinking alcohol, doing drugs or smoking because of headaches, shakiness and irritability, you would likely say they needed to kill that addiction.
We tend to gravitate towards coffee for its caffeine which impacts serotonin and dopamine. They can be referred to as “feel good” hormones. Studies have shown serotonin to either be released in higher amounts in response to caffeine intake or, for its receptors to be more sensitive to it, taking more up. If the body gets used to the above, it may not release enough serotonin or receptors may not be sensitive enough to the serotonin the rest of the day. You may also hear about caffeine stressing out your adrenal glands. I have heard this for years, ever since I saw a Naturopathic Doctor in high school. Now, knowing more about hormones it makes more sense but still, researchers aren’t finding the direct links between caffeine and this gland. What we do know though is that those adrenal glands release epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol, now well known as the “stress hormone”. When caffeine consumption is high, the release of those hormones is more constant. We need to release both of these hormones in small amounts but when the release becomes chronic, the body feels chronically stressed as adrenaline can promote anxiety and cortisol, overall stress and altered blood sugar levels. In addition, caffeine increases blood pressure, which for some people can induce feelings of anxiety on its own.
Now, back to those who think they are no longer impacted by their caffeine consumption and can just drink it all day long: a study testing caffeine’s effects on cortisol showed that after 5 days without caffeine, its consumption significantly increased cortisol. In those that did not go without caffeine, a morning dose did not increase cortisol but that it did at other points throughout the day. Another study showed that consumption of caffeine at 0, 3 hours prior, and 6 hours prior to bed all were significantly associated with sleep disruption versus a placebo. Sadly, even if you feel that the sleep you are getting is enough, it may just be what you are “used to”. We also have research showing how lack of sleep drives up cortisol, stress and anxiety levels too.
I have been preaching to others for awhile now to cut out caffeine a couple of times a year. It can help you realize if caffeine is influencing your stress levels, sleep patterns and mood at all. Maybe you are someone that is not impacted by its consumption but without taking it out of your life for a few weeks, you will never know! Sure you may feel more stressed for a couple of days without it as you go through withdrawal, but remember that is a sign that your body really needs to learn to do without!
After enjoying a cup this morning (above), which usually is my last of the day anyway, I am going two weeks coffee free. I will turn to tea to fill my mugs that have positive quotes and motivating mantras to start my day. The last time I did this was during lent this past spring and now as I am paying attention to stress levels more, and being more intuitive to my body’s needs, I feel I am due for another reset. I personally know it impacts my sleep if I have too much, and often notice my sleep improves even when not having just my one cup in the morning. The last time I went coffee free, I actually felt more energetic! You won’t know how it is impacting your life and health if you don’t try. I invite you to cut out caffeine with me now, or pick a time in the near future that you know you can commit to the coffee free challenge.
Tips for removing caffeine:
-Drink enough water. Water alone is necessary for adequate metabolism, energy levels and even appetite control. Start your day off with H2O!
-Have green tea if you are going through withdrawal. It provides less caffeine and can help you wean off.
-Eat a balanced breakfast. Be sure your breakfast includes fiber, protein and preferably a fruit or vegetable. Fiber and protein shouldn’t come from supplements, processed shakes or fiber fortified cereals or muffins though. Use whole grains and real food protein sources. Oatmeal with nuts, seeds and fruit is a good option or you could have plain yogurt or cottage cheese as a protein source with fruit as a carbohydrate. An egg and veggie scramble with a side of berries can do the trick too. Having this morning balance is great for your energy levels, blood sugar and hormones throughout the day!
Try cacao or maca. Either can be found in powder form via navita’s naturals or many other brands. Instead of cocoa which is typically alkalized and processed to the point where nutrient content is impacted, cacao can give you the taste of chocolate that makes you feel good when added to oats, yogurt or a smoothie, but also have health benefits to support your heart. Maca is speculated to stabilize hormones and increase energy but also has somewhat of a sweet flavor and can be added to the same foods I mention above.
Finally, I’d like to leave you with some thoughts from a MD who teaches women how to balance their hormones naturally. Her article “Are you addicted to stress” was just posted via wanderlust.com.