A Beginners Guide To Wean Yourself Off Caffeine

If you’re used to waking up each morning and pouring yourself a cup of joe, you’re in good company. In fact, an estimated 7 in 10 Americans drink coffee each week, with the average consuming more than three cups, according to the National Coffee Association (NCA).

Coffee is not only tasty, but its key ingredient is caffeine, a natural stimulant found in cacao, coffee beans and tea. Caffeine is well-known to be addictive, meaning that your body can actually crave it to such a degree that you can have actual withdrawals (headache, mood swings, etc.) should you miss your daily dose. “Caffeine works primarily by inhibiting the release of adenosine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that makes us feel tired, which keeps us feeling awake for longer periods of time,” explains Mark Iwanicki, ND, LAc, naturopathic doctor and licensed acupuncturist. “Caffeine also stimulates the release of adrenaline from the adrenal glands, which makes us feel like we are energized, and enhances dopamine signaling in the brain, which is one of our feel good neurotransmitters.”

Caffeine can be quite beneficial. It not only boosts our feelings of being awake and alert, but it also has been shown to increase our baseline metabolic rate, or the amount of calories we burn at baseline. By increasing our baseline metabolic rate, we potentially improve our changes at burning fat and losing weight, explains Dr. Iwanicki.

Caffeine can also help enhance our athletic performance. “There is research to suggest that consuming a moderate amount of caffeine before exercise can help improve your athletic performance and reduce your fatigue during the exercise,” he says. “By enhancing dopamine signaling, caffeine can also make exercise seem more rewarding and enjoyable.”

There are drawbacks, of course, including nervousness and fidgeting, especially for those prone to caffeine sensitivity. Additionally, Dr. Iwanikci points out that, “since caffeine spikes cortisol and adrenaline in the body, if you’re coping with constant anxiety or stress, drinking beverages with caffeine can create an additional burden on your adrenal glands.”

Caffeine can induce a spike in blood pressure in certain individuals. “If you’re struggling with hypertension, you should consult with your doctor before drinking coffee or other beverages with caffeine,” he says. “Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also be careful when drinking caffeine.”

If you’re looking to cut back on your intake, or halt it altogether, here are some expert-approved tips for how to wean yourself off caffeine.

Don’t do it cold turkey

If you are trying to wean yourself off caffeine, Dr. Iwanicki warns that stopping at one given time altogether may not be the best choice, especially if you are used to drinking lots of caffeine throughout the day. “If you are a habitual caffeine drinker, your brain has become used to a certain level and quitting cold turkey can lead to some nasty withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, irritability, anxiety and even depression,” he says. Instead, he recommends weaning yourself off slowly—even starting by cutting your intake by half or even a third for a few days and continuing this trend until you are down to zero.

Switch to a beverage with a lower caffeine content

If your caffeinated beverage of choice is coffee, consider switching to a caffeinated beverage that contains less caffeine, such as decaf coffee, which still has a small amount of caffeine. “Decaf can be a great option for those who love the taste of coffee and who want the antioxidant benefits of the coffee bean but do not want the stimulant effects of caffeine,” Dr. Iwanicki says. When choosing decaf, he recommends purchasing beans or ground coffee that have been processed using the “Swiss Water Process.” “This method is a safe and natural way to remove caffeine from the coffee bean, whereas conventional methods utilize chemical solvents to remove caffeine, which are toxic and harmful to the body,” he adds.

Hydrate often

Drinking enough water often is important no matter what you’re doing, but it’s especially important when you’re trying to wean yourself off caffeine. Toronto-based naturopathic doctor Olivia Rose, N.D., even suggests adding some electrolytes to your water to help enhance your levels of hydration. “Caffeine is a diuretic which means it encourages the elimination of water and minerals via the kidneys,” she says. “Adding electrolytes will help your energy and help you to stay hydrated.”

Consider getting your iron levels checked

If you were relying on caffeine to give you a much-needed energy boost everyday and feel deplete without it, it’s possible that your iron levels are low, warns Dr. Rose. “Caffeine can reduce the absorption of iron from your diet, so if you suffer from fatigue due to low iron or iron deficiency anemia you may really need to take an iron supplement instead of caffeine,” she says. “In fact, caffeine could be making your situation worse.” She recommends talking to your health care provider about getting your iron levels checked and potentially taking an iron supplement depending on those results and before you wean yourself off caffeine.



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