Friday, July 17, 2015

Cutting Down on Caffeine

I spotted this book in the library, and found it quite interesting.  As you may remember, I went one month without coffee in May.  That month the only caffeine I knowingly had was in tea and chocolate, quite a bit less than my usual 2 or 2+ large cups of coffee per day.  During that month I lost weight and slept well, although I was also being extra zealous in my diet and exercise, so I can't give all the credit to the reduction of caffeine.

The book has some interesting information about the history of caffeine use, and how it is different in other parts of the world.  The author calls it "a bitter white powder" and says without question it is a drug, and how convenient it is legal!

Here are some things I learned from the book:
  • We use caffeine to wake us up in the morning and it definitely works.  However, those same morning cups may be still hanging around in our systems when we're trying to go to sleep at night, causing a vicious circle of sleep deprivation and needing more coffee. 
  • Caffeine doesn't affect REM sleep, as other stimulants do, but disturbs stages 3 and 4 sleep, which account for about 20% of our sleep time and include some of our most restful and restorative sleep.
  • A study found that susceptibility to caffeine's disruption of sleep varies with a person's chronotype (this is whether you are a day-person (lark) or a night-person (owl)).  Larks are more susceptible - darn - that's me!
  • Another study found that caffeine disrupts sleep more in people who are already having sleep issues due to stress.
  • Caffeine can trigger anxiety.  This was news to me.  Sometimes when I can't sleep I find myself worrying about all kinds of issues I hardly think of during the daytime, and I feel sort of tingly and almost frightened, even though I know I'm safe in my own bed.
  • The half-life of caffeine in the human body is an average 4 to 5 hours, however this varies a lot from person to person.  (Half-life is how long it takes for the concentration in the bloodstream to lower by 50%.)  For a woman on birth control pills, it is twice as long.  For a pregnant woman, especially in the last four weeks, it is even longer.
  • A smoker gets half the caffeine kick as a non-smoker.
  • Here is an interesting example from the book:  imagine a couple where the man is a smoker who weighs 180 pounds, and the woman is on birth control pills and weighs 135 pounds.  If they sit down for a cup of coffee together, she gets a caffeine effect that is nearly five times as strong as his!
  • Vegetables in your diet may play a role.  Cruciferous veggies like broccoli can increase enzyme activity that breaks down the caffeine, giving you less of a "hit".  Apiaceous veggies like celery and carrots can reduce the enzyme activity, giving you more of a hit.  (Here is a paper about this in relation to how various types of vegetables affect cancer, but it didn't seem to come to a definite conclusion.)
  • This book caused me to realize how much caffeine many children are drinking in orange soda, Coke, Mountain Dew and energy drinks like Red Bull.  Apparently the FDA limits the amount of caffeine powder that can be added to soft drinks, and recently has made regulations about the amount in energy drinks and "energy shots".  This issue is a bit outside my topic here, as I have no plans to drink any of those products, but there is much information online, including a case where a teenager died after drinking an energy drink, and a study in 2010 showing that young children who used the most caffeine slept fewer hours.
  • Caffeine's effects aren't all bad.  It is a very effective headache remedy, and is also effective as a morning-after solution to a hangover.  It is also an effective treatment of breathing problems in premature infants.
  • Headache is also a common symptom of caffeine withdrawal.  There are over-the-counter suppositories available for people who are fasting and a prescription called Cafergot for people who are too nauseated to keep down a caffeinated beverage.
  • In 2012, Harvard researchers found a relationship between caffeinated coffee and a lower incidence of basal cell carcinoma, a very common skin cancer.  This is being studied, and mouse studies have shown that caffeine can help to eliminate sun-damaged skin cells.
  • There is conflicting information about whether caffeine is harmful during pregnancy, but many women choose to avoid or limit their caffeine consumption during that time.  I was lucky - very early in my pregnancies coffee was the first thing to disagree with me.  I felt queasy in the mornings and didn't want coffee throughout my entire pregnancy.

So what am I going to do with all this information?

Aarrrgh!  I didn't really want to know : (   I do love my morning coffee.

And I love my occasional treats later in the day, too!

Can you tell I love Starbucks??  I own SBUX stock too, and it has done nicely  : )  I wish I had purchased some many years ago when I was lining up downtown every day before work!

Okay, seriously, I know I'm not going to give up coffee!  I am glad I don't have any interest in Coke or other soft drinks, and I drink my tea so weak that I don't think there's a problem there.  In fact, I think tea is overall a pretty healthful beverage as long as one doesn't add cream and sugar.

  • Since I drink most of my coffee at home, as of today I'm only going to buy decaf.  I don't taste much difference, as long as I get a good brand (the one on sale, of course), and I can start making it a bit weaker.
  • I have already stopped buying the bottled frappaccinos, since I noted my weight gain last month.  These will remain my treat for long car drives - like when I go to Portland or when Stan and I take a long road trip. 
  • How about 2 or 3 tea-only days each week?  I got used to this during May, although I do find myself looking forward to my coffee as soon as I'm up in the morning.
  • Or, how about having my first cup of coffee and following up with tea if I want more?  These changes will take some determination and getting used to.  I'll let you know how it goes.

P.S.  Younger readers:  don't give your kids soda pop!  Do you know about Soda Stream?  This is a gadget that makes carbonated water, and they sell syrups in cola, orange, lemon-lime and other flavors, both sugared and sugar-free.  There are several flavors that are completely caffeine-free, and others have had their caffeine content reduced recently.  Here is a list.  You can get them in Target.  I like to make the sparkling water and then add a few drops of the syrups that folks put in coffee, like caramel or raspberry.

This flavor sampler came with our SodaStream.  We haven't used most of them, as we like the sparkling water straight or with a few drops of flavored syrup, but for kids, you can add some flavoring to make it like regular soda.

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