During the past 40 years, I have quit caffeine many times. But I’ve always come back. The addictive power of coffee and tea is so great, it lures you back even when you vow to never touch another drop again.
I started drinking tea at the age of 21. But it wasn’t until my late 40’s that I began regularly drinking coffee. Three years ago, I got to the point where I was drinking 6 to 8 cups of tea a day and a strong cup of coffee with lunch.
This was a stressful period in my life as I was trying to build a business. I worked long hours and relied on caffeine to get me through. I eventually came crashing down with major exhaustion and burnout.
Having written a book about hypoglycaemia and owning a website on the subject of health, I was not practising what I preached at that point.
So, around July 2016, I decided to quit caffeine totally. I went cold turkey. For five days I felt absolutely terrible, like I had the flu. I could barely function and spent a lot of time in bed. After about a week, the headaches and exhaustion lifted and I began to feel normal again.
I started drinking herbal teas. I thought I was finished with caffeine.
After about three months of being “clean” I went to a café with my wife. I thought, why not have a coffee. Just one won’t hurt. So I did. And it gave me the most amazing buzz! To cut a long story short, I fell off the wagon. The next day, I had another coffee. And the next.
The pull of caffeine is so strong, it’s tempting to have “just one cup” when you feel tired and stressed.
Eventually, I got to a point of drinking one or two cups of tea a day, and one or two cups of coffee per week. And for the past three months, I have had no coffee at all, just one or two cups of tea per day.
So, it’s a vast improvement on where I was three years ago. But to be honest, the craving for caffeine has never left me completely.
Yesterday I decided to try an experiment. I had two cups of tea at breakfast (ordinary black tea with milk), two cups at lunch and another cup of tea round 4pm. So, a total of five cups in one day.
The effect was astonishing. During the morning, I was on a high – physically, mentally and even spiritually! This euphoria continued throughout the afternoon and into the evening. I had such a productive day. It was mind blowing.
After being deprived of caffeine for so long. My body seemed to be super-sensitive to its effects.
Three years ago, I was drinking more tea than this daily, plus a strong cup of coffee, and just dragging through the day. Now, five cups of tea made me feel almost super-human.
So, should I continue drinking five cups of tea a day? Sadly, the answer is no. I know from experience that the effect of caffeine wears off over time if you consume it daily. It takes more and more to get the same lift. I would eventually end up with burnout again if I went down that track.
Today, I am feeling the negative effects of drinking that tea yesterday. I am sluggish and a bit headachy. And I am REALLY craving a cup of tea.
What about studies showing coffee and tea have health benefits?
There are many studies showing health benefits from tea and coffee. They suggest that moderate coffee and tea consumption can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other degenerative diseases.
I’ve often wondered about these studies. If caffeine is so addictive, how can it also be so good for you?
I haven’t reached a final opinion, even after all these years. But it does appear that some people are particularly sensitive to caffeine, while others can tolerate it without any harmful effects.
According to Chris Kresser, who runs one of the top natural health sites in the world (www.chriskresser.com), some people are “fast metabolisers” of caffeine and other are “slow metabolisers”. It’s a bit more complex, because you can be a fast metaboliser of caffeine, but you may be a slow metaboliser of the extra epinephrine and norepinephrine that the caffeine helped release.
If you are a fast metaboliser, you can handle caffeine without any adverse effects. It gets out of your system quickly. But if you are a slow metaboliser, caffeine stays in your system longer and may cause more harmful effects.
Slow metabolisers of caffeine may be at higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, impaired fasting glucose, and possibly some cancers. Whereas fast metabolisers of caffeine may experience benefits for heart disease, obesity, cancer and more.
So, you can see how important it is to know whether you are a fast or slow metaboliser of caffeine. I suspect if you suffer from chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigues, low thyroid or blood sugar issues you are almost certainly a slow metaboliser of caffeine i.e. caffeine is harmful for your body.
I am certainly in that latter category. I know I need to minimise my caffeine consumption if I want to feel well. (Sad but true).
One reason I have kept coming back to caffeine, despite being determined to quit, is because I have read yet another study about the supposed health benefits of tea and/or coffee. But having discovered the fast and slow metaboliser theory, I am no longer taken in so easily by these studies. I know there’s another side to the story. I know I am a slow metaboliser.
I’ve written a lot about the harmful effects of sugar, but I now believe caffeine might be just as important – maybe even more so – if you suffer from chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, low thyroid or any kind of blood sugar issues.
In an ideal world, I would recommend total abstinence from all caffeinated drinks (coffee, black tea, green tea and any kind of energy drinks containing caffeine) if you are suffering from any kind of fatigue or blood sugar issues.
In reality, I know this might be asking too much. A good compromise is to reduce your caffeine consumption to no more than two or three cups or coffee or tea per week (yes that’s per WEEK, not per day!) So, keep coffee or tea as a special treat. That way, you won’t get addicted to it.
If you’re addicted to caffeine, be gentle with yourself. You don’t have to do what I did three years ago and quit cold turkey. (If you do, prepare yourself for a week of suffering and misery). You can cut down gradually over several weeks, until you get down to two or three cups per week. That way, you will minimise the withdrawal symptoms.
If you cannot go a single day without consuming a caffeinated drink, then you have to accept that you are addicted. This may well be one of the keys to unlocking the solution to your health problems.