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The HOW and WHY Behind Caffeine Withdrawal

Can you imagine taking coffee out of your daily routine?  For many of us, drinking coffee, or caffeinated beverages, is a way of life.  We watched our parents drink it, and they watched their parents.  Many of the cleanses and detox programs available now recommend that you cut out caffeine during the detoxification period.  For some people, caffeine is the hardest part of doing a detox.  If you’ve tried it yourself, you may have experienced a headache that felt like it was never going to end, or experienced a tired, almost sick feeling.  What causes this, and is it worth the pain?

Let me remind you – caffeine is a drug.  It can be addicting and habit-forming, as your body can crave the stimulating effects.  Science tells us that caffeine blocks a neurotransmitter that quiets the brain.  Caffeine can stay in the body for 3-7 hours, and for some people it disturbs their ability to fall asleep, or to stay asleep.  It prompts the release of other neurotransmitters that drive the heart rate up, and stimulates the adrenals to release cortisol, which brings on a “fight or flight” response.  This constant stress response can contribute to insulin resistance and weight gain when caffeine is consumed alongside a diet loaded with sugar.  Caffeine also interferes with critical brain chemicals that affect impulse control.

Caffeine is known to affect our “sleepy” chemicals in the brain by hijacking their receptors and taking over, causing us to feel more awake.  If you drink too much coffee, the body makes more of these receptors, which can cause you to want more coffee in order to fill these new receptors.  As this is happening, you don’t even realize it, and before you know it you have a caffeine dependency.  Some believe that people can, in some instances, permanently alter their brain chemistry with caffeine.

When you try and give up coffee, these extra receptors that were created are harder to fill, and you may experience an unusual amount of tiredness as your body retrains the receptors to the point where they aren’t constantly looking for caffeine to plug them up.  Typically, the more caffeine a person regularly consumes, the harder it is for them to stop.

Some of the common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are:

  1. Headache, usually the worst during the first 24 hours
  2. Fatigue
  3. Depression
  4. Flu-like symptoms
  5. Irritability
  6. Anxiousness
  7. Insomnia
  8. Constipation
  9. Muscle pain and stiffness
  10. Concentration problems

A few tips to help with caffeine withdrawal symptoms:

  1. Make a concrete plan to decrease caffeine GRADUALLY, as going cold turkey can make symptons worse.  If you drink more than 5 cups of coffee a day, try cutting out 20% per week.  You can work your way down to decaf and then try and cut it out completely for at least 10 days.
  2. If you choose to drink decaf coffee, make sure it is organic. More information on that here.
  3. Drink lots of water. The recommended amount is half your body weight, in ounces.
  4. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which help give your body the nutrients it needs to heal at the cellular level.
  5. Hang in there! Everyone is different – and it may take anywhere from a couple of days to a week or two for you to finally wean yourself of your caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
  6. If you are able to retrain your brain and body to feel good without caffeine, you will thank yourself and be happy you gave your body a break. You will think twice about having that second or third cup of coffee going forward!

DesMaison, Kathleen, Little Sugar Addicts:  96-102

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