Posted by: Kennedy | August 18, 2011

Caffeine detox: Can I do it?

Hi. I’m Kennedy, and I have a coffee-drinking problem.

Yes, I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m addicted to caffeine. I’ve been starting my mornings with a coffee for years. I recently tested myself by going two days without any coffee… and I got a withdrawal headache that lasted for three days.

Fun times.

Last month, I declared on the blog that I was planning to try a caffeine detox.

Why stop drinking coffee, you ask?

Well… the more time I spend at IHN, the more I’ve discovered about my beloved beverage. And the more I’ve come to know, the more convinced I’ve become that my relationship with coffee is not a healthy one.

It’s actually kind of toxic.

Let’s examine the facts, shall we:

Caffeine is a diuretic – it makes me pee. And with that pee, I’m losing all kinds of water-soluble vitamins and minerals – and, of course, water. So no matter how much spinach I eat, some of its health benefits are literally going right through me. Not to mention the fact I’m dehydrating myself with each sip. For every cup of coffee I drink, I’m depleting my body of two cups of water. Something to think about when calculating our daily water needs – that average 8 cups can quickly become 12.

Caffeine is acidic – We all need a proper acid/alkaline balance to ensure the pH level of our blood is just right – not too acidic that we destroy our own tissue, and not too alkaline that we can’t kill the bad stuff, like parasites and viruses. Acidic foods lower the pH levels of our blood, while alkaline foods raise them. The average North American eats a lot of acidifying foods (meat, eggs, grains, dairy, sugar, alcohol, oils) and not enough alkalinizing foods (fruits, vegetables, sprouted nuts and seeds, millet, quinoa, sea vegetables, herbal teas). Adding coffee to the diet acidifies the system further and leaves it more vulnerable to chronic disease.

Caffeine is a stomach-emptier – it promotes premature opening of the pyloric sphincter, sending any stomach contents to the small intestine, possibly before they’ve been fully and properly broken down. The pH of the stomach contents isn’t low enough to trigger the gall bladder to secrete bile, which also means the pancreas will secrete fewer digestive enzymes. What does all this mean? Food isn’t being digested properly and the bacteria in our intestines then feed off the leftover particles. Eventually, the liver will become overloaded from all the toxins collecting in the system.

Caffeine leads to adrenal fatigue – Drinking coffee stimulates the nervous system, causes blood sugar to increase and triggers the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands. The adrenals are our “fight or flight” organs. When we are in a state of stress, they release hormones to help us cope. Now, the typical North American doesn’t have to worry about getting eaten by a tiger. Our “fight or flight” responses therefore don’t really serve us as significantly as they did our ancestors. However, today our adrenals are stimulated on a much more frequent basis…

Try to imagine how much stress the typical person experiences daily. We’re busy with work, school, family obligations – perhaps too busy to fuel our bodies with lots of healthy food and exercise. The stress from our daily lives + poor diet of sugar, processed foods and other toxins leave us feeling both tired and anxious. So we pick up unhealthy habits to “calm down,” such as smoking or drinking alcohol. These habits, along with poor diet and mental/emotional stress, can contribute to difficulty sleeping. And someone who is chronically sleep-deprived has a hard time getting going in the morning without some kind of stimulant, like coffee. It’s a vicious cycle. People living this type of lifestyle are living in a constant state of stress, and the result is adrenal burnout a.k.a. the inability of the body to effectively respond to and cope with stress.

Yeesh.

So now I know all this stuff about the harmful effects of drinking coffee. And yet, I still haven’t been able to stop. That’s the thing about addictions…

However, one nice thing about going to nutrition school is that I get to learn about solutions for how to overcome said addictions safely and effectively.

Operation: No More Coffee

Step #1: The slow wean – I’m not quitting cold turkey. Not only is that going to cause withdrawal symptoms, it also won’t work in the long run. I’ve tried to just stop out of the blue before, and it never stuck. Caffeine has a hold on me, and it’s going to take time before I can truly bid it “adieu.”  Over the past few months, I’ve been slowly limiting my portion size – replacing my larges with mediums every other day or so. Now, I’ve moved on to alternating days without any coffee or black tea – replacing it with either an herbal tea or my new favourite, a green smoothie.

Step #2: Greens galore – I’m boosting my consumption of alkalinizing foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables and other foods I mentioned above will balance out caffeine’s acidifying effect on the body and help reduce cravings.

Step #3: Love my liver – by eating foods that support Phase 1 detox enzymes. These will help my liver get rid of the toxins that have been building up in my coffee-drinking years. Foods that induce Phase 1 detox include: cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, and Vitamin C-rich foods like bell peppers, tomatoes, oranges and tangerines. Herbs such as caraway and dill also work well.

Step #4: Disassociate – Giving up coffee is kind of like training for a marathon: the challenge is partly physical, but largely mental and emotional. I’ve definitely become mentally and emotionally attached to coffee (anyone remember this post?). I think the toughest part for me will be disassociating coffee with feelings of comfort and productivity. How do I plan to do this? I’m not sure yet. Finding something to take coffee’s place would probably be a good start. I’m working on becoming addicted to Green Monsters – all those vitamins, minerals, omega-3s and antioxidants would surely make me feel energized and productive.

If you’re thinking of cutting back on caffeine as well, I recommend picking up a copy of Caffeine Blues by Stephen Cherniske. My instructors have referred to his work a number of times and he surely has lots more info and tips.

Okay. Wish me luck…

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Responses

  1. I wish you luck Kennedy!
    I had an addiction to diet coke ( 4 or more a day) + 2 mochas in the morning
    I’m down to one mocha in the am and maybe a diet coke once a month.
    And I have survived!! 🙂 ( and the urge to pee is not so great anymore, wheww!! ) You can do it!!

    • Thanks Debbie! Yes, that Diet Coke habit can be a tough one to break – very impressive!

  2. Hi Kennedy. It’s been a while. Hope all is well with you and at Daytrippers, etc. Thanks for the good info. I’m new to coffee (about a year) and think I could take it or leave it. I had a thought about your search for something to fill the productivity gap: ginkgo biloba. check it out. maybe you can use it for a sort of placebo effect for a while as you drop the coffee. Good luck!

    • We actually learned about gingko biloba in my herbal medicine course – thanks for the reminder! Will have to pick some up.

  3. good research! I did not know that for every cup of coffee, we deplete 2 cups of water. that is crazy!
    i always have a cup in the morning, followed by a cup of water (or vice versa). maybe i need to drink 2 or 3 cups to actually get any usefullness out of it.

    the bf and I always give up coffee for lent. its sooo hard to go 40 days with out it. the first week or so are very hard but it gets easier! and that first sip of coffee after the fast is SOOOOO GOOD! haha

    good luck and keep up updated on how you do~

    • I think giving up anything you love for 40 days would be crazy hard, so props to you! And yes, the dehydrating effect is one of my main reasons for cutting back.


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