Monday, August 11, 2014

Our caffeine story

We have been caffeine users and coffee lovers for over 40 years.  Though we moved to Hawaii for the laid-back lifestyle and to reduce our stress, giving up coffee was never on our list of things to improve our health.   A couple of months ago, we started reading some disturbing studies about caffeine and how it keeps the body from losing weight and degrades health.

We knew that too much caffeine can cause anxiety, sleep problems, spasms, dehydration, and stomach upset. But we didn’t know that just 200 mg of caffeine increases the cortisol levels in the blood by 30% within an hour (*).  Cortisol reduces metabolism, increases belly fat, and causes the body to breakdown muscle tissue. Cortisol also reduces leptin, the hormone that regulates hunger, so you feel hungry no matter how much food you have eaten.  

A cup of coffee once had less than 100 mg of caffeine (according to, Folgers has about 70 mg in a 6 oz cup) but times have changed.  A Grande size of plain brewed coffee at Starbucks has 330 mg of caffeine.  Rockstar Energy drink has 240 mg per can and other super energy potions have double that.  Caffeine is not only in coffee, teas, energy drinks, soft drinks, and chocolate, it is also in mints, ice-cream, chewing gums, pain-relievers, and cold remedies (**).

When we added up all the caffeine we were getting through our multiple pots of coffee, daily dark chocolate, additional afternoon coffee, we realized we were going to have caffeine withdrawal.  We  started by gradually reducing the amount of coffee grounds in our morning brew.  After a couple of weeks we were able to get down to one cup of coffee a day.  Although we didn’t have severe headaches, we felt lethargic and missed our morning adrenal jolt.  After two more weeks, we cut out coffee entirely and then the caffeine headaches started. Caffeine causes the blood vessels to be constricted; one study showed that just 250 mg of caffeine reduced blood flow to the brain by 30% (***).  This is scary since caffeine also increases blood pressure, a combination that increases the risk of stroke. Without caffeine the blood flow increases to the brain and causes headaches.  On the upside the additional blood and oxygen to the brain increases concentration and memory, but it also helped us to remember how much we loved our morning coffee.  Taking painkillers for the headache is not helpful as many painkillers contain caffeine.

Although a challenging process, the effects of getting off caffeine have been dramatic.  We no longer drink a bottle of wine every night to get to sleep. We sleep more and much deeper.  We have less appetite and are eating less. The best part is that we both lost about 5 pounds in three weeks.  These were the last 5 pounds (after our weight leveled out on our low-carb diet) to get under our normal BMI weights.

Though we often miss drinking coffee in the morning, we are delighted to find another way to lose fat, improve our concentration, and get even more laid back.  Now, we are hoping for other health benefits promised by being off caffeine over a long period of time.

* “Stress-like adrenocorticotropin responses to caffeine in young healthy men” by Lovallo W., et al. published in Parmacol Biochem Behav 55, 1996

** (caffeine content in drinks and foods)

*** Caffeine Blues:  Wake up to the Hidden Dangers of America’s #1 Drug by Stephen Cherniske

The Decaf Diet: Is Caffeine Making you Fat? by Eugene Wells  


Unknown said...

Hey! Do you know...Coffee tends to grow better at equatorial climates, so you can't really grow coffee in the contiguous United States. Hawaii, however, has an optimal climate for harvesting java beans. Have a fun with Kopi Luwak

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