(NOTE: This article is from the old School of Natural Healing newsletter)

April 2004

by Lindsay Wolsey, MH

Eighty-five percent of American’s consume caffeine everyday. Caffeine is the top drug consumed in America, surpassing alcohol and nicotine. There is no age limit on caffeine, either. David and Fawn Christopher tell the story of a time there were on an airplane, and a mother was pouring a Coke into a baby-bottle and handed it to her baby. Fawn was very shocked, and was very glad that it wasn’t her baby, and that the woman wasn’t her mother. Infants do not metabolize caffeine very well, so that Coke was in that baby for a very long time. Our children should not be weaned onto sodas, whether or not they have caffeine.

Effects of Caffeine

So what does caffeine do, anyway? Research suggests that caffeine blocks the effect of adenosine, a chemical in our brains that induces sleep. So, when we drink caffeine we are unable to become as tired or sleepy as we would otherwise, and we have difficulty falling asleep. Caffeine will offset the effects of sleep deprivation, and we all know that people are not getting as much sleep as they need. Caffeine is a stimulant, which is probably why it is so popular (that, and having a Starbucks or a convenience store on every corner). Caffeine increases metabolism, raises blood pressure and heart rate, and it also accelerates breathing.

So caffeine helps us to be more alert, and that’s not really a bad thing is it? Well, if you canoverlook the fact that it is a physically addictive drug, not to mention all of the dangers of caffeine, it’s not really a bad thing. But caffeine raises blood pressure, which increases the risk of high blood pressure, and heart disease, among other health problems. It also has effects ranging from mild alertness to heightened anxiety and body tension. A moderate dose can produce throbbing headaches, depression, and insomnia. Sounds great, doesn’t it folks! Sign me up for throbbing headaches and insomnia!

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is an alkaloid. There are numerous compounds called alkaloids, among them we have the methylxanthines, with three distinguished compounds: caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine, found in cola nuts, coffee, tea, cacao beans, mate and other plants. These compounds have different biochemical effects, and are present in different ratios in the different plant sources. These compounds are very similar and differ only by the presence of methyl groups in two positions of the chemical structure. They are easily oxidized to uric acid and other methyluric acids which are also similar in chemical structure.

Withdrawal Symptoms

The regular consumption of caffeine reduces the users sensitivity to it. So, when the intake is reduced, the body becomes oversensitive to adenosine, the chemical in our brain that induces sleep. Because of this, the blood pressure drops dramatically, causing an excess of blood in the head, which leads to a headache. Among caffeine consumers, this headache is known as a “caffeine headache”. It usually lasts from one to five days, and goes away with an analgesic, or (tada!) caffeine. So, the cause is also the cure, which is why a lot of people struggle when discontinuing use of caffeine.

People who are trying to reduce their caffeine intake are usually irritable, unable to work, nervous, restless, feel sleepy, and usually have a headache. In extreme cases, nausea and vomiting have been reported.

There is good news about withdrawing from caffeine, and that is that the physical symptoms of withdrawal rarely last more than a week.

Herbal Solutions

To successfully go off caffeine, you need a good game plan and the right supplementation. Following are some different options.

Tapering Off

To start with, reduce how much caffeine you consume in a day. If you have a 32-ounce Cherry Coke for breakfast, a biggie sized Cherry Coke for lunch, and a 12-ounce can for dinner, see if you can make it to lunch without the Cherry Coke. Then see if you can go without the Cherry Coke at dinner. Then it’s only a matter of time before you can go without the Cherry Coke at lunch. Of course, you’ll probably go through a lot of the withdrawal symptoms.

Switching

David Christopher recommends switching to an herb that is high in caffeine, such as green tea or guazama for at least a week or so, and then switch to mate. You could take mate for as long as needed, as it does not have as much caffeine in it.

Supplements

Be sure to take lots of Vitalerbs, and it might be a good idea to take some Relax-Eze or Valerian to help with the nerves.