How to get off coffee

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First, let me say that I realize you may not want to get off of coffee. Or that you do, AND you don’t. For me, coffee has been a long and bumpy on-and-off love affair that always ends in headache and irritability.

It starts out with a romance, a perfectly perfect Sunday morning and a cozy cool café with locally roasted organic beans and a happy little buzz that carries me through a lovely and inspired afternoon. Monday rolls in and I’m certain that I would like to have that day again, and that I could use a little extra oomph to get me focused and productive. Monday’s latte is not quite as perfect as Sunday’s, but gets me fired up all the same, so fired up in fact that Monday night’s sleep is a bit restless.

Tuesday arrives and I’m in the zone, but a little under-rested, so I grab a latte on the way to work and fire up the jets for another day of superpowers. Unfortunately, Tuesday’s latte was a little weak, so I end up deciding to have another at about 3pm, because I’m feeling a bit of a lull. Tuesday night’s sleep is cut short by a burst of creative energy that arrives at about 9:30pm and carries me until about 1:30 when I lie down to pray for sleep.

By Wednesday, I am a goner. I can’t NOT have coffee. I can’t risk the headache of withdrawal. I can’t afford to have an unproductive day. My nervous system won’t turn on unless I have coffee, and I wake irritated and jonesing for a cup of joe. But one cup won’t do it. It gets me back to “normal” but does not catapult me into superproductivity, instead it gives me a bit of anxiety and just leaves me wanting more.

This is my cycle. Usually it takes me anywhere from 3-12 weeks to unwind myself from that one Sunday latte. I may be an extreme case. My wife is perfectly capable of having the occasional latte and not falling off the wagon, but not me. I just love it too much.

If your story is similar, or even entirely different, but you find yourself seated next to me on the train to coffee crash, fear not, you are not alone. I have patients who have been drinking coffee every day for years, never missing a day. It’s amazing how committed we can be to taking this medicine, even when we know it’s not really working anymore.

Here’s some signs that you may want to consider putting down the black juice:

1. You don’t sleep well on a regular basis.
2. You find yourself more anxious than you used to be.
3. You can’t go a day without coffee.
4. You NEED more than one cup a day.
5. You have coffee everyday, first thing on an empty stomach.
6. You frequently find find yourself more irritable than is reasonable for the circumstances.

7. You get headaches if you miss a day, and sometimes even if you don’t.

8. You tend to have coffee in the morning, and nothing else to eat until hours later.

9. You experience heart palpitations.

10. You’re still tired after your coffee. As in, coffee is not working for you anymore.

 

Here’s what happens when you drink coffee, from the perspective of your adrenals.  The adrenals are responsible for several functions in the body, many of which are related to our stress response.  The stress hormone, cortisol, is secreted by the adrenals in response to stressful situations, and certain stimuli, one of which is caffeine.  Cortisol activates the fight or flight response in the body, causing stored blood sugar to be released into the bloodstream, hence the burst of energy, and simultaneously diverting energy toward the brain and muscles, and away from restorative functions like digestion, reproduction, healing, and others.  All this is ok in the short term, and in fact, usually makes us feel really good, in that adrenaline rush kind of way.

In an interesting double-blind, crossover clinical trial, which you can check out here, researchers confirmed that caffeine causes an increase in cortisol, and that tolerance develops over time, but that there is still a cortisol response even with regular consumption.  What does that mean?  It means that Sunday’s cup is the best, Monday’s cup a little less bright, Tuesday’s cup not enough, and Wednesday we need 2 cups to do half of what Sunday’s cup promised.  AND, that although we are not getting the same payoff, that the cost is still high.

The cost comes with long term exposure to the stress hormone cortisol.  This hormone is a whiz when it comes to getting us out of danger, and making us superhuman when we are in a pinch.  But, when we stimulate that stress response day after day, week after week, that same hormone causes breakdown of neurotransmitters in the brain, diminishes the integrity of the gut lining, steals hormones from the reproductive system, and throws our blood sugar out of balance. And like caffeine, after awhile, our brain doesn’t even register that we are under stress, so we need more stress to feel “normal.”

Now, to be fair, coffee does seem to work for some individuals.  In fact, it seems to work ok for a lot of people, and there is more research every day touting the many benefits of this much celebrated beverage.  I’m not denying that this is true, and in fact, I do have great respect for this little bean.

I’m an herbalist by trade, so I always look at the energetics of plants.  Herbs are often classified according to their usage for acute or chronic conditions, and many herbs have effects that, although they may be beneficial for a short term goal, can be harmful if used long term.  Often times, it is the strongest medicines and herbs that are used for the shortest courses of treatment.  Think herbal antibiotics, for example: very strong effect, useful short term, not so good to take every day for months on end.

It is my opinion that coffee is an herb that is generally safe and useful short term, for its powerful effects, but can be damaging long term.  In fact, there are few classes of herbs that are intended to be used daily in significant doses over long periods of time.  Although it is possible that for some individuals, coffee is the perfect medicine if taken in the perfect (relatively small) dosage, it is quite likely that for many, coffee is very much the wrong medicine, especially if taken repeatedly over long periods of time in large doses.  A good analogy here might be a baby aspirin a day can be helpful for some individuals to regulate circulation, but that does not mean by extension that it is safe for everyone to take several aspirin a day for years on end.

Eventually, for many people, daily use of caffeine in coffee leads to depleted adrenals, diminished brain function, and a host of related problems.

This brings us finally to the crux of our conversation, and the goal of this article.  How to get OFF coffee, if you suspect that coffee may be doing more harm to you than good.

Here’s the basic program, and I encourage you to make a plan and stick to it.  I have taken many many people through the relatively painless detox from coffee.  For me, the worst part is 1-3 days of headachey, brain foggy, tiredness, and that is if I just go straight cold turkey.  But, there is a better way.  Here’s what I recommend.

  1. Pick a date.  Give yourself 5-10 days, depending on what is coming up in your life.  Try to plan for a Friday as your first day OFF coffee, as this generally sets you for the hardest 2 days to fall on non-work, lower stress days when coffee is not as essential.
  2. If you are a coffee first thing in the morning person, move your coffee back an hour, and have a protein rich breakfast within an hour of waking. (see adrenal healthy breakfast post here).  For some people, this is enough to dramatically shift the spike and crash of blood sugar that typically follows coffee consumption.
  3. Start to wean.  If you are a 3 cup a day kinda guy or gal, cut back to 2, then 1.5, then 1, then half.  Working your way down like this dramatically decreases the withdrawal for most people.
  4. If you know you are someone who gets headaches, go to the store and purchase one or all of the following: earl grey or your choice of black tea, pu-erh (my favorite) yerba mate, matcha green tea (the best of the best), green tea leaves.
  5. Order some Mind’s Eye here on our site.  Start substituting one of your coffee’s with a Mind’s Eye latte, which you can learn how to make here.  This formula is designed to be a coffee substitute, and can be used in place of your daily coffee once you are completely weaned.  In the meantime, it will help to stimulate the parts of your brain that have become numb due to the repeated exposure to cortisol.
  6. On day 1 of no coffee, or on the last few days of weaning, substitute with black tea or yerba mate, according to your preference, making it as strong as needed to keep you functioning.  You can use the tea and blend it in with Mind’s Eye, almond or coconut milk, honey, coconut oil and/or grass fed butter depending on your preference.
  7. Get acupuncture on day 2.  This will help your body adapt to its new set of circumstances more quickly, to alleviate any side effects, and speed up the detox from caffeine.  I’m biased, but this is the best thing you can do for yourself to avoid relapse and giving up just before you make it over the hill.
  8. Make a new ritual.  One of the biggest complaints people have when they go off coffee is that they miss the morning ritual.  I find that brewing tea, or simply warming almond milk and blending up a Mind’s Eye latte is enough of a “ritual” and that what I am really craving is the brain wake up along with the frothy, indulgent, bitter sweet beverage that feels so cozy and comforting in the morning.
  9. Gradually wean the caffeine out of your Mind’s Eye latte, from 1 double tea bag cup to a 1 tea bag cup, to half a cup…
  10. Have a couple of Mind’s Eye lattes a day if you need to for awhile.  The upshot of this is that Mind’s Eye is made with herbs that are considered tonics and adaptogens, and have been used safely for thousands of years to promote longevity, health, and even immortality, according to some.  These herbs, unlike coffee, have a cumulative effect, meaning that over time the effects will increase, rather than decrease, and you will find that you need less to provide the same effect.
  11. Enjoy your new brain.  The herbs in Mind’s Eye have all been used traditionally to enhance brain function, and include herbs that support the dopamine pathway, which is often depleted by stress, caffeine and other stimulants.  If you have suffered from anxiety or depression, or both, this is going to be a game changer.  As you replenish the depleted reservoir in the brain, you will find that you wake more rested, that your brain functions better with or without Mind’s Eye, and that you feel happier overall.  You are retraining your brain to appreciate the subtler, more simple and nourishing pleasures, and rewiring the tendency to seek out the extreme pleasures that can be detrimental and addictive over time.
  12. If you have a particularly stressful situation or a particularly long night, it’s ok to add a scoop of matcha or a bag of pu-erh tea or mate to your Mind’s Eye latte once in awhile.  I find it much less likely to start me down the road to daily caffeine use than coffee, and every bit as effective once you have weaned from the black juice.  And, if you simply find you cannot live without caffeine, all of these choices, with matcha on the top of my list, have far more benefits long term than coffee and are much easier on the adrenals.

So there you have it.  No good reason not to get off coffee.  You can have your ritual.  You can have your brain back.  You can have lasting, sustainable energy that doesn’t leave you crashed out by noon.  You can even have your daily latte, and make it feel every bit as rewarding as a double latte once felt.  Honestly, I very very rarely miss coffee anymore.  What I do miss is my Mind’s Eye latte, and I have been known to carry a bag of herbs with me and to make unusual but not unreasonable requests of baristas in many a funky coffee shop.  Most are intrigued, and pleasantly surprised at how beautifully it serves up.

 

Now it’s up to you.  Let me know how it goes getting off coffee, what delicious and creamy beverage you mix up with your Mind’s Eye, and what you are going to do with all that new brain power! The picture up top features one of my favorite local barista’s Mind’s Eye latte artwork!  Send me a picture of yours!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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