GIVE UP COFFEE? When you pry it from my cold dead hand!
They say if you want to lose friends fast, lend them money. In our business, you lose them even faster if you speak badly about coffee! But we wouldn’t be us if we didn’t arm our readers with a broader understanding of what they are consuming. So here goes….
America Runs on Dunkin’ (and Starbucks, Folgers, Maxwell House, et al.)
For starters, We Americans love our coffee! The phrase, “America runs on Dunkin’” is not that far from the truth. According to the National Coffee Association, 64% of Americans drink at least one cup of coffee every day which is up from 62% in 2017 and the highest percentage since 2012. The average coffee drinker consumes 3.1 cups of coffee per day. As a population, we consume a total of over 450 million cups a day and over 150 billion per year. At an average cost of $2 to $5 per cup, coffee turns out to be a very lucrative industry.
A drug in a Mug?
70% of caffeine consumption comes from the consumption of coffee. The rest comes from teas, energy drinks, soda, and chocolate. Is caffeine a drug? The short answer is “Yes”. Caffeine is America’s most widely used drug.
Wikipedia defines caffeineas “the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive drug.” A psychoactive drug, is a one “that changes brain function and results in alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, or behavior.” Many of us who consume or have consumed caffeine can attest to the accuracy of this as we often experience a “boost” to our mood and feel a heightened level of mental acuity and energy level after having caffeine.
Is caffeine addictive? Even though overconsuming caffeine or consuming it daily won’t land you in jail or on skid row, caffeine is an addictive drug. Although its effects are milder, caffeine operates using the same brain pathways as amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin. Some signs of caffeine addiction include difficulty sleeping, agitation, muscle twitching, restlessness, nervousness, increased heart rate, excitement, stomach upset and increase urination. Ending usage abruptly often results in withdrawal symptoms of a physical and mental nature for some period of time.
Those “getting off” caffeine may experience symptoms such as headaches (some severe), nausea; vomiting; mental fogginess; inability to concentrate; bad mood / negative attitude; depression; and fatigue and drowsiness. The severity of withdrawal depends on the individual and the duration and quantity of use. If you plan to stop drinking coffee, we suggest weaning off it slowly to avoid the harsher impact of withdrawal. Adding in some caffeine-free teas will satisfy the warming effect of a hot beverage and add a wide variety of flavors and health enhancements to your beverage selection.
If you consume coffee every day or feel like you must have it; can’t function without it, and you look forward to it throughout the day, then you are likely addicted to caffeine. Three out of five Americans say, “I need a cup of coffee to start my day.”
What’s Behind the Boost and Crash Cycle?
Caffeine’s biggest draw is that it gives us a boost by waking us up and making us feel good. The common belief is that it gives us energy. But does it really? Let’s explore what happens physiologically when we consume caffeine.
During the digestion of food, our body breaks down glucose (its preferred energy source) into molecules that can be used by our cells for energy called adenosine triphosphate(ATP). When ATP is used up (i.e., our body has used all the digestible glucose it needs for the time being), adenosine molecules build up in our blood. This signals our cells to become less active, bringing on drowsiness. This initiates the early stages of our sleep cycle.
Caffeine is an adenosine blocker. This means that it attaches to the cell receptors that would normally be told to slow down by adenosine, preventing that signal from getting through and thereby preventing drowsiness. So, what we interpret as a “boost” is actually the prevention of our rest and sleep cycle.
To make matters worse, the pituitary gland is alerted by this caffeine/adenosine activity and thinks that something serious must be occurring. So, it releases hormones that tell the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline (epinephrine). Adrenaline is the “fight or flight” hormone, released when there is major stressor threat perceived by the body. This results in pupil dilation, increased breathing rate, increased heart rate, increase blood flow to muscles, increased blood pressure, virtual shut down of the digestive system, the release of sugar from the liver into the bloodstream for extra energy, and the tightening of muscles as they get ready for action. In other words, what appears as an energy boost is actually more of energy expenditure.
The reality is there is no threat to the body, but your system is still responding as such. The caffeine will eventually leave your system and the adenosine will do its proper signaling. This takes some time though as caffeine sticks around. Roughly half of the caffeine will leave the body after 6 hours and 75% after 10 hours. If we are drinking multiple cups throughout the day and constantly interrupting our ATP cycle, it is easy to see how caffeine prevents us from initiating sleep even if consumed well before bedtime. Per the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, “one study found that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bedtime reduced total sleep time by 1 hour.”
This is important: If the adenosine levels are not normalizedduring sleep, the excessive buildup causes us to wake with grogginess. And what do many of us do to kickstart the day? We make another pot of coffee, perpetuating a cycle of poor sleep and sluggishness throughout the day that we artificially remedy with more caffeine.
In worst case scenarios, those who have a long-term habit of drinking large amounts of coffee can experience health concerns like insomnia, nervousness and restlessness, stress, heart complications, adrenal fatigue, digestive issues, diminished bone health and more.
If you are a coffee drinker, consuming it in the morning as far from bedtime as possible is what we recommend. And it can’t hurt to consider cutting down your caffeine intake too, even partially…if you’re not willing to eliminate it altogether. If you areconsidering breaking the habit altogether, remember to wean off slowly to reduce withdrawal symptoms. If you don’t want to give up the taste of coffee, switching to decaf is an option but bear in mind decaf does contain some caffeine(less than 5% of caffeinated coffee). And start eating healthier to level out your energy during the process. It has been our experience that a diet full of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains results in an energy level that far exceeds the artificial, temporary boost we get from our cups of Joe!