8 Benefits of Quitting Caffeine
Quitting caffeine has never been harder. For one thing, caffeine has never been so prevalent in Western society as it is now. Coffee culture is on the rise, as every high street sees new coffee shops opening all the time. Personally, I’m quite glad of this. It’s a largely good thing. Coffee shops are neutral, friendly spaces where you can socialise without the presence of alcohol and all that that entails. For those in recovery, they can quite literally be life savers.
However, caffeine addiction – or, at least, an over reliance on caffeine – is no small thing either. Millions of us rely on caffeine to wake us up in the morning, get us through the day, push us in the gym after work; in short, to keep on going and going.
For an average person to quit caffeine, withdrawal symptoms can last anything from 2 to 9 days
The trouble is that a little bit of caffeine is actually incredibly healthy. It is an antioxidant, a mild mood enhancer, a cognitive enhancer, and that little energy boost can be very helpful. However, too much is quite bad for you. More than 200 mg can be unwise. Over 400 mg of caffeine per day – that is, about four to five cups of coffee – can be outright dangerous.
As a result, cutting down on caffeine – or cutting it out entirely – can bring about some fantastic benefits for your health and wellbeing.
We’ve outlined eight benefits below, all of which are available to anyone looking to simply switch out their afternoon coffee or tea for something else.
Quitting caffeine – the benefits
1. Quitting caffeine can reduce anxiety levels
Caffeine can make you anxious. That burst of energy for which people love coffee in part stimulates our fight or flight response. This releases hormones that can increase anxiety and nervousness, spikes the heart rate, cause palpitations, and can even induce panic attacks.
This is even worse for those of us more prone to suffering from stress and anxiety. It can make symptoms a lot worse. In fact, depression, a common cause or side effect of anxiety, has been linked with higher caffeine intake.
2. Lower your blood pressure by quitting caffeine
The stimulatory effect that caffeine has on the nervous system can also lead to a rise in blood pressure. High intake – over the recommended above-mentioned 400 milligrams of daily consumption – has also been associated with an increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Cutting down or outright quitting caffeine can take you out of this danger zone.
3. Less caffeine can mean more sleep
Caffeine also wakes you up. It, therefore, makes sense that too much caffeine, or caffeine too late in the day, can stop you from sleeping properly. It can alter your sleep cycles, can cause restless sleep, and can even develop into insomnia.
Caffeine can lead to daytime drowsiness as a result. Then, what do we do? Drink more tea, coffee, and energy drinks to perk us up! Thus, the cycle continues.
You may find it easier to get to sleep without caffeine. You may find the quality of the sleep you get improves drastically, too.
4. You can absorb nutrients more efficiently without caffeine
Going caffeine-free can mean that your body may absorb some nutrients better. The tannins in caffeine can interfere with the absorption of certain micronutrients, such as calcium, iron, and B vitamins. This can be particularly severe in those who consume above the recommended daily amount of caffeine and in older people.
Going coffee free can therefore help you to maximise uptake of all the goodness in your diet. B vitamins are particularly important for those recovering from alcoholism.
5. Balance your body’s chemistry by quitting caffeine
Caffeine can have a drastic impact on hormone levels. For instance, it can raise the level of cortisol, the hormone related to stress, which can have a fair number of negative health consequences.
Women may particularly benefit from quitting caffeine. That’s because caffeinated drinks like tea and coffee can mess up your oestrogen levels. Studies have shown that Asian and black women who drink more than 200 milligrams per day saw elevated oestrogen levels. White women, meanwhile, saw their oestrogen levels drop.
This can put you at risk of certain chronic conditions such as breast and ovarian cancer, and endometriosis. Caffeine isn’t directly linked to these conditions. However, unbalanced oestrogen levels are.
Caffeine has also been linked to worse menopause symptoms.
Quitting caffeine, therefore – or at least cutting down on it – is a very good idea for women.
6. Balance your brain’s chemistry by quitting caffeine
Caffeine affects your mood – as anybody who has skipped their morning cup of coffee on the way to work will tell you. I certainly struggle to speak in full sentences without my morning brew, and I’m far from alone.
The effects come from a change in brain chemistry – changes quite similar to the effects of drugs like cocaine. In fact, many medical professionals agree that caffeine fulfils many of the criteria by which drug dependency is measured. It can bring about mood swings alongside an increase in anxiety.
Caffeine dependency is real. Some people can simply stop taking it without any ill effects. However, for some, quitting caffeine can mean withdrawal symptoms. If you are dependent on caffeine, going cold turkey can bring about symptoms in as little as 12 to 24 hours.
These symptoms can last anything from two to nine days, with those more dependent on it generally struggling for longer.
Chronic headaches are one of the more common, troubling side effects of caffeine withdrawal. They can show up a few days after your last cup. It can be accompanied by cognitive difficulties like brain fog, fatigue, irritability and mood swings, and difficulty in concentrating.
7. Cut caffeine to brighten up your smile
Though it’s not the most serious item on this list, there is no getting away from the fact that tea and coffee can stain your teeth. The tannins they include can cause a build-up of discoloured tooth enamel. Acidic caffeinated drinks, like strong coffee, certain sodas, and energy drinks, can wear down enamel.
Quitting caffeine can therefore give you pearly whites – a mouthful of healthy teeth.
8. Improve digestive health by going without caffeine
Excessive caffeine intake can bring about a lot of unpleasant digestive issues. For example, caffeine is diuretic and laxative, meaning that you will go to the bathroom a lot more. This is inconvenient as you will be jumping up every hour to run desperately to the loo. It is also unhealthy as it can lead to chronic dehydration.
Excessive coffee content can also lead to diarrhoea, loose stools, or even incontinence. It can also play a large role in developing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Quitting coffee can get rid of these issues, leaving you healthier and far more comfortable.
Who should consider cutting or quitting caffeine?
As we have now seen, cutting down on, or even quitting, caffeine can bring about a great many benefits. Many people would do well to cut down, especially if they are regularly drinking four or more cups per day.
However, there are some people for whom quitting caffeine is more urgent than others. These include:
- Those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or even trying to conceive. Caffeine is not good for the baby. It has also been linked with decreased fertility and an increase in miscarriage.
- Those already prone to anxiety, as it will only exacerbate symptoms. This includes those who are depressive, struggle with irritability, hostility, and anxious behaviour, and those suffering from certain psychiatric concerns.
- For those with pre-existing gut or digestive concerns, such as acid reflux, gout, IBS, or incontinence, caffeine will once again only aggravate the symptoms.
- Those on certain prescription medications, with which caffeine can interfere. Some of these medications include antibacterial drugs, antidepressants, and asthma drugs. Always check with your doctor if you’re on any prescription medications and fear that your caffeine intake is too high.
Cold turkey, or just cutting down?
Unless any of the above apply to you, there is generally little reason to completely cut caffeine out if you don’t want to.
As we’ve seen, caffeine, and coffee, in particular, have many benefits. It is a great antioxidant. It can give you the lift and boost you need, especially when you’re a little over-tired or stretched too thin. Caffeinated drinks are also often incredibly nice and can be drunk in safe, healthy environments, especially as an alternative to pubs and bars where alcohol consumption is generally expected.
Just remember that too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. Keep to three cups or below (preferably below) for most of the time and you’ll likely be fine. In fact, you won’t be so sensitive to caffeine, so you’ll be able to get similar results at lower intakes as you cut down.
Which drinks contain caffeine?
We’ve mentioned tea and coffee, as well as energy drinks (such as Red Bull and Monster Energy). However, it can sometimes be hard to know which drinks contain caffeine. Many people don’t realise that plenty of foods and over-the-counter medicines also contain caffeine (three cups of coffee per day plus a load of chocolate will likely take you over your healthy threshold, for example).
Here are all the drinks you want to be watching out for, as they all contain caffeine to some degree:
- Black tea
- Iced tea
- Hot chocolates
- Energy drinks
- Some fizzy drinks, such as Coca Cola
- Green tea
Even decaffeinated coffees and black teas will contain a little caffeine – cutting caffeine out of them all together is basically impossible.
Then there are these foods, which all contain caffeine to some degree:
- Chocolate, especially dark chocolate
- Some ice cream
- Chewing gum
Some medications, especially cold and flu remedies, contain caffeine, as it is itself a natural analgesic. Always talk to your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you’re not sure.
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- The invisible addiction. Is it time to give up caffeine? https://www.theguardian.com/food/2021/jul/06/caffeine-coffee-tea-invisible-addiction-is-it-time-to-give-up
- 9 side effects of too much caffeine: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/caffeine-side-effects
- caffeine: https://medlineplus.gov/caffeine.html