Monday, October 4, 2010

Kick the Caffeine Craving

If caffeine's negative side effects are outweighing its benefits, give these tips a try to cut the habit safely.

Caffeine is a favorite pick-me-up, especially for those who work in an office. Most people realize that caffeine has negative side effects, but what they may not know is that it actually diminishes energy in the long run.

Caffeine, being a central nervous system stimulant, does make you feel more alert and energetic. But the effects are short-lived. When you have used up your stores of energy (and then some!), you end up with less energy than you would have had otherwise. For someone who drinks a lot of caffeine, the eventual result can be fatigue, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Other ways caffeine affects the body include:

  • Caffeine leeches calcium from the body, which is especially problematic if you are at risk for osteoporosis. 
  • If you don't get your usual fix at the usual time, you will likely experience caffeine withdrawal symptoms, including fatigue and severe headaches. 
  • Excessive consumption of caffeine increases blood pressure, causes "bad" cholesterol levels to rise, and disturbs heart rhythms. 
  • Caffeine causes gastrointestinal problems, including gastric reflex and acidic stomach. 
  • Caffeine contributes to or exacerbates fibrocystic breast disease. 
  • Caffeine impairs fertility.

So what are good alternatives to caffeine? It depends upon what you seek from your daily coffee or soda.

If you enjoy the ritualistic warm, comforting feeling of coffee in the morning, try a different morning ritual: a root or grain beverage such as Inka or Cafix with milk and sweetener, Roastaroma tea from Celestial Seasonings, chai tea (some brands now are made with green tea), green tea (a lower-caffeine alternative to coffee) or herbal tea.

If you thrive on the energy boost, it's helpful to explore the underlying reasons for your energy deficit, according to Kasia Hopewell, ND. "I try to assess whether someone is getting exercise, enough sleep and a balanced diet. I ask if they are drinking enough fluids in general. I also explore what other lifestyle factors may be contributing to their fatigue." Dealing with the underlying reasons for tiredness will help create a natural, reliable source of energy that doesn't wax and wane so dramatically.

If you drink soda pop for the refreshing feeling, try a sparkling water such as Talking Rain, which has a few drops of essential oils for flavoring. You can also try squeezing some fresh lemon or lime juice into some sparkling water.

If you're trying to kick caffeine, it's important to proceed gently. "Be easy on yourself. Get lots of water, rest and relaxation," recommends Dr. Hopewell. She often prescribes Siberian ginseng to help support patients through the transition. "You may experience fatigue and severe headaches for a few days, but after that, you're done."

Learn more about the nutrition services provided by Bastyr Center for Natural Health, or schedule your appointment today.

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