by Alexandra Nicole Nuralam

Should You Quit Caffeine?

Image via @veneti.a

Many of us start our day with a cup of coffee—some more than once a day. From morning coffee to pre-workout supplements to the vending machines filled with soda, caffeine is nearly as ubiquitous as water.

Of course, caffeine isn’t evil. In fact, it can be amazing… at low doses. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to consume too much, too often.

Whether you’re trying to cut back on your caffeine consumption or quitting cold turkey, there are plenty of great reasons to push through if caffeine consumption has been affecting your daily life. Here, we check in with Dr Rachel Chan of WhiteCoat to gain insights into what caffeine does to our bodies and whether we really should be quitting caffeine.

What does caffeine do to your body?

“Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that causes the brain to temporarily experience more mental alertness, with boosts in concentration and reaction time,” says Dr Rachel. “It has also been shown to enhance physical performance temporarily as it improves physical energy.”

Other short term effects include an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

Since caffeine is well-absorbed by the body, you can feel its effects usually within 5 to 30 minutes and can last up to 12 hours. Of course, if you’re drinking many cups of coffee, you may start to feel its more undesirable effects, like insomnia, headaches, anxiety and restlessness.

How can you tell if you’re reliant on caffeine?

Like many psychoactive substances, it is possible to develop a tolerance—and reliance!—to caffeine over time. “Tolerance to caffeine means that your body gets used to caffeine and requires more of it eventually to get the same effect. As the amount of caffeine ingestion increases so does the risk of undesirable side effects,” explains Dr Rachel.

The most telltale sign of caffeine dependency is if you start to experience unbearable withdrawal symptoms that influence your ability to carry out your daily activities when you skip that cup of joe.

“Withdrawal symptoms can start from 12 to 24 hours after stopping caffeine. These vary from headaches, fatigue, irritation, drowsiness, low energy and concentration difficulties.”

The duration of caffeine withdrawal varies from person to person, with most people experiencing symptoms for 2 to 9 days.

What are the health benefits of quitting caffeine?

Ah, the question we all want to know the answer to. According to Dr Rachel, after the initial withdrawal symptoms, your body can actually benefit from a caffeine-free lifestyle. “Quitting caffeine can potentially help to improve your mental health by decreasing anxiety-related symptoms and give you more energy as your sleep habits improve,” she explains.

And if you need more reasons before you jump on the wagon, drinking less coffee would mean: a) improved absorption of certain nutrients including vitamin B, calcium and iron; and b) whiter teeth since drinks such as coffee, tea and sodas tend to stain the teeth with their acidity and colour.

How long does it take to detox from caffeine?

Quitting cold turkey is definitely an option, but according to Dr Rachel, a great place to start is just to gradually lessen the amount of intake. Doing so will give the body time to adapt. In the meantime, just replace your caffeinated beverage with water!

If you’re a coffee drinker, it might be time to switch your Starbucks order to decaf as you taper off regular coffee.

“Using either of these methods over a span of two to three weeks will successfully allow you to detox from caffeine without causing withdrawal symptoms,” recommends Dr Rachel.

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