Back when I worked at a law office in Chicago, my work wife and I would constantly be sending each other instant messages to meet in the break room for “more crack”. By work wife I mean my co-worker bestie, and by crack I mean coffee. It was not uncommon for us to slam 3 or more cups in a day to make it out alive. I’ve always willingly acknowledged that my coffee “habit” was actually a full-on addiction, and have cut it out a few times, only to relapse in a matter of days. As I write this, I’m almost 3 weeks clean… I know that sounds like nothing to some people, but if you’re a tweaker like myself, you know that’s an accomplishment. My previous attempts at cutting coffee out of my life were simply out of a personal desire to not be dependent on it. I wanted to energize myself naturally. But after a little bit of time, I’d find myself exhausted from things like my three year old doing summersaults over my body all night long and begin the self-justification. This time it’s different.
A few weeks or so ago I went in for a routine wellness check. Everything was going as normal, until my NP said she was going to check my thyroid. She gently felt my throat where our thyroid is located and paused a minute. She said it felt large and asked me if we could draw some blood. Fast forward to a couple of days later… the blood work came back and, as it turns out, I am suffering from hypothyroidism. AKA – my thyroid is not producing enough hormones. There will be a 2nd test done in 6 months and if my levels haven’t improved, I will have to begin taking a daily synthetic hormone. As a self-proclaimed health freak who obsesses over doing everything as naturally as possible, I let out a big “oh, hell no.” upon reading this news. Now – let me get to the point and tell you what this has to do with coffee.
I know that I’m a pretty damn healthy person who takes pretty damn good care of myself. So after letting this new info settle in for a moment, I sat my butt down and started digging for answers as to why my thyroid would be going to shit and what I could do about it. The first thing that caught my attention, was that our adrenal glands and our thyroid glands work hand-in-hand. If our adrenals are shot, our thyroid suffers. Why would our adrenals be shot? Stress is probably going to be your number 1 answer. And you know what increases cortisol (the stress hormone) levels? Caffeine. Know what has lots of caffeine? Coffee.
To make a long story a bit shorter, time and time again I was running into articles talking about the effects of caffeine on our bodies and how one of the first things you need to do if you’re trying to restore your adrenal glands (and just your natural energy levels in general) is to STOP PUMPING YOURSELF WITH CAFFEINE.
Now… my situation has some extra “stuff” involved. If you saw my post about my struggles with anxiety & depression, you probably realize that with or without caffeine, my stress levels may generally be higher than some other peoples. But that doesn’t mean that if I didn’t have these underlying issues, caffeine would be just fine. Besides… who the fuck doesn’t experience anxiety or depression from time to time. Am-I-right?
Anyway, let’s look at some ways that caffeine affects our bodies. And it does affect us… in many ways. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. So, if you’re a coffee (or energy drink – *ew*) lover, warning: I’m about to kill your buzz.
First of all, let me just say – caffeine IS a drug. It’s such a mainstream staple that we typically don’t tend to think of that way. But it is a substance that alters our mental state, and can become incredibly addictive.
Real quick, let’s look at a few physiological changes that occur when we drink this stuff.
Adenosine is a molecule that our brains naturally produce more and more of, from the time we wake up until the time we go to sleep. It’s around to make sure that by night time we are ready to hit the sack and get the rest that we need. When we ingest caffeine, it latches onto the receptors designed for adenosine, pushing them out of the way. This means that while the effects of caffeine are in action – we feel more alert and awake. Unfortunately, what then happens, is our little adenosine friends see what’s going on and begin to make new receptors for them to start latching onto. And the more receptors get created, the more caffeine you need to plug them up. This is how one morning cup of coffee turns into another and another. All the while, we’re completely disrupting our body’s natural process.
On a similar note, caffeine injects adrenaline into your system, providing you with a temporary energy boost. But once it’s run its course, you may later find yourself feeling fatigued and depressed. Again – our initial reaction at this point is to typically reach for more caffeine to get back to that happy place that we were in the first time around. The problem is that consuming more caffeine to counteract these effects will often result in you spending the day in an agitated state, and all jittery & jumpy by night. (Jesus, this sounds familiar.)
I mentioned cortisol – the “stress hormone” – earlier. Caffeine tends to increase our cortisol levels, which can lead to other health issues such as heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, and straight up moodiness.
Caffeine also increases dopamine levels in your system, similar to amphetamines (Oh, great. I’m a meth-head now), which can make you feel real good after taking it, but when it wears off leaves you feeling like shit. This is part of the process that leads to a physical dependence because of the dopamine manipulation.
Now, to avoid going on for-ev-er, I’m gonna spout off a quick list of other possible negative effects of our favorite little upper:
- More than 4 cups of coffee a day has been linked to early death
- May cause a raise blood pressure
- Could lead to increased risk of heart attack
- Is linked to gout attacks
- Increased odds of developing fibrocystic breast disease (women may experience painful lumps in breasts)
- Can lead to incontinence
- May cause insomnia
- Can cause indigestion
- Can cause headaches and lead to migraines
- Could reduce fertility in women
- Can slightly increase the risks of miscarriage
- Can cause changes in heart activity, such as more forceful heart contractions
- May worsen menopause symptoms
- Can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and the need for medication for these conditions
- Inhibits collagen production in the skin – got wrinkles?
- Interferes with ossification – AKA the development of your bones
I truly did not consider all of the ramifications of my coffee habit until this whole thyroid thing happened to me. I had convinced myself that it was harmless, and had to be fine because, shit, everyone drinks it. But I have to say, I’ve been blown away by the differences I feel now that I’m caffeine free. On a quick but important side note – many of these negative side effects that can come from caffeine are most definitely associated with the amounts that you consume. Just like pretty much everything else, moderation is key. Everyone is different and has a different tolerance – but if you notice any signs of these sorts of side effects, I’d consider seeing how you feel going without.
Here are some of the changes I’ve personally noticed since cleaning up my act:
- Less anxiety
- Overall better mood – less agitated, more patience, and a sense of calmness
- More energy! No more serious crashes throughout the day
- Clear minded – My mental fog and groggy feelings have gone out the window
- Better sleep
- Less stomach aches (I used to often feel really “full” and/or sort of crampy after coffee)
And let’s not forget to mention that ditching this habit puts some money back in the bank.
In my experience, there’s nothing to lose, and much to gain from cutting caffeine out of your life. The first few days or so may have you feeling pretty rough. Fight through it. I promise there are wonderful feelings in store for you on the other side! To avoid super strong withdrawal side effects, you can slowly taper off your intake, each day having less and less until you’re down to none. I haven’t felt this good in a long time. And it’s really gratifying to think that I’m giving my body a break and just letting it do its damn thing. May I never, ever go back.
If you decide to join Team No Caffeine or have already done so – I’d love to hear about your experience! Leave a comment here – we may be able to give people the assurance they need to realize that they in fact will not drop dead without their coffee.