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Why I Quit Coffee


Now don't get me wrong. I didn't say I quit caffeine. That would be inappropriate for the life that I have right now - waking up before the sun and not, by any means, a morning person. I also have a brain that focuses much better with a small amount of caffeine – it's the difference between standing in the middle of the room, looking around wondering what I'm supposed be doing, and actually getting a task done. So, at this point in my life, a little bit of caffeine is not something I'm willing to give up quite yet and don't feel I need to.


When I started my nursing career, I worked night shift in a hospital for nearly 7 years. Each shift started with someone making sure there was a full pot of coffee ready to go. Coffee was everywhere - and I drank A LOT of it. We are talking nearly a full pot each day (or night). I became a connoisseur of great coffee. I grounded my own organic specialty beans, I had preferred brew times, and used percolators and fancy machines to make these magical drinks. I actually became a real snob about "good coffee". But at some point, I realized it was no longer serving me to have the highs and lows of energy that the coffee brought.


I also noticed a lot of gastrointestinal effects from the coffee. I tried switching out the milk for oat milk instead, got rid of the extra sugar, but still couldn't tolerate the sour stomach and cramping that I would get from the coffee. And then there was my sleep. To say that it was bad is an understatement. Caffeine works by blocking the sleep receptors in our brains, and for some people it can interfere with sleep for many hours after the last drink, depending on their body's ability to metabolize the caffeine. I grew up watching my older relatives have a cup of coffee after dinner, and thought I could do the same thing. But, I'm one of those people that's a slow metabolizer. So with any caffeine source, my cut-off time is pretty early in the day if I don't want to interfere with my sleep. I knew it was time to step back on the coffee, but wasn't ready to give up caffeine altogether.


I decided to make the switch to teas after finding some of the coffee alternatives less-than-palatable (a lot of people tell me it's an acquired taste, but I'm not sure how long you have to drink it to "acquire" - certainly longer than I was willing to try). Much like food can be medicine, the same goes for what we drink. Teas can contain bioactive compounds other than caffeine, such as theanine, which has a calming effect for many people. Depending upon the type of tea, it can also contain quite a hefty dose of antioxidants. Some even have effects of decreasing blood sugar and cardiovascular inflammation. I finally settled on a daily routine of yerba maté. I don't make it in the traditional way, but it gives me a solid dose of caffeine each morning, with the added benefits of antioxidants, fatty acids, some vitamins, and anti-glycemic effects.


What's been the benefit of the switch? I take in a lot fewer calories with tea versus my fancy coffee drinks. Gastrointestinal side effects have stopped. I tend to sip the tea a lot slower, so I don't have the huge caffeine crashes. I also stop drinking my tea early in the day so the caffeine doesn't run into my sleep time. On the rare occasion that I do drink coffee now, I notice a lot more irritability, jitteriness, and even muscle tension that I don't have when I drink tea.


It's taken a long time to find the sweet spot of caffeine intake and an alternative to coffee for myself that feels healthy and acceptable. I've focused on helping my concentration and energy with herbs and nutritional support rather than just the rocket fuel that is caffeine. There are incredible herbs, mushrooms, and vitamins for people that can greatly help energy levels throughout the day in a way that sustainable. I tell my patients that I don't take coffee away from people, but if we can support energy levels in other ways, then their coffee intake will naturally decrease. They can eventually switch out to a less aggressive form of caffeine if they want. Each person has their own preferences and tastes, so I'm not one to decide for someone what they should or shouldn't drink. However, I can point people in the right direction, so that their energy, concentration, and mood for the day is not hanging on the next cup of coffee.


Like a lot of things, coffee is neither good nor bad - it's a substance that happens to have an effect on our bodies. Same goes for caffeine in general. It's how we use it (or abuse it) that matters. And as the line of cars wrapping around every coffee shop each morning inches forward, it's nice to know that we have other options to get our day going and keep our energy levels up.

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