Your Morning Kickstart Doesn't *Have* to Be Coffee

As someone who is devoted to health and wellness, I've felt a cognitive dissonance with my love for coffee for many years.  I've gone completely off coffee for a while, cut back, replaced it with decaf, tried coffee replacements… basically I've lived with the bitter bean water (to the extreme) and lived without the magic go-go juice (to the extreme).

I truly feel that I have come to a place of peace re: my relationship to coffee.

It’s a highly debated area of concern with many, and a casual Google inquiry will yield copious articles, opinion pieces, and ”stuff of the internet”—all converging and jumbling into a wild sea of opposing pros and cons.

There has been quite a bit of research put into this little bean which both promotes (often paid for by coffee corporations) and demonizes coffee.  You could probably spend days reading about it.  To save you some effort, I’ve got a list of percolations and peculiarities of caffeine, all in one place, so you can make your own informed decision:

Caffeine Percolations:

  1. Rise and Shine! As we all know, caffeine can provide a jolt of alertness, which is why so many go for the pot of joe first thing in the morning.  With doses as low as 250 milligrams, caffeine has been shown to improve both alertness and mental performance, so, I mean, who can blame us when we’re rushing around and exhausted and reach for what feels like an easy energy solution?

  2. Build me up, buttercup. More superhuman leveling up that can occur at a mere 250 milligrams? Well-being, happiness, energy, alertness and sociability each increase under the seductive power of caffeine.

  3. What is cognition, Alex. Some studies indicate caffeine can help us to more quickly complete cognitive tasks, such as recognizing visual patterns.

  4. Keep Going and Going. If you’re about to hit the pavement for a long run and want to ensure you won’t hit a wall, you might want to sip a cuppa.  Some sources point to evidence that caffeine can help us to go harder longer. (Caffeine seems to help the body to use less of the fuel for our muscles, glycogen, during workouts. As soon as we run outta glycogen → hello, wall. There’s a 50% reduction of the use of glycogen stores when caffeine is coursing through the body = no walls = longer workouts.)

  5. Gimme the epidural! Of course we get addicted to caffeine!  Why wouldn’t you chug beverages that stimulate the release of B-endorphins and hormones (that suppress the sensation of pain or discomfort)? Ain’t nobody got time for that!

  6. Speaking of that epidural… By constricting blood vessels, your body can more easily and quickly absorb medications (this is why your bottle of Excedrin Migraine is laced with caffeine).

  7. Drink your juice, Shelby. Frank Hu, M.D., one of the authors of The Harvard Study, speculates that because caffeine stimulates muscles to burn fat and sugar more efficiently, it may help prevent diabetes.

  8. The Opposite of Kryptonite. Caffeine is one of those foods that’s often promoted as a superfood because of the antioxidants present.  Antioxidants have clout because they assist in stabilizing free radicals, which prevents them from doing radical damage (free radicals that go unneutralized can damage the actual DNA of the cells in which they live).

  9. Live better, longer. According to Harvard researchers, men who drink four cups of caffeinated coffee a day are half as likely to develop Parkinson's disease as those who refrain from consuming caffeinated beverages (dopamine molecules are related to diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and caffeine keeps those molecules going).

  10. Steep breathing claims. Some claim that drinking a moderate amount of caffeine can be therapeutic for people with asthma.

Caffeine Peculiarities:

  1. Under pressure. Four cups of coffee (or any equally caffeinated beverage) can raise blood pressure, and increased blood pressure levels are associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

  2. I can’t. Even if you drink a cup of joe in the morning, caffeine slogged down in the early hours of the day elevate stress levels throughout the entire day.  Stress hormones go up, which will manipulate your perceived stress level. Scaling back your caffeine intake will lessen your stress reaction

  3. I can’t even.  With any excess of 2g of caffeine in your body, your heart becomes stimulated and your blood vessels dilate (why pain medication works better). What follows is an increase in blood pressure, which causes bronchial relaxation in the lungs and increased breathing (why it’s good for asthma). These physiological reactions tend to cause irritability, restlessness, insomnia, and agitation.You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have… the facts of life.  And coffee.

  4. Drink your juice again, Shelby. Type 2 diabetics should be aware that caffeine may impair insulin’s job in the body, which is in part to control blood sugar, and this impairment can create a notable increase in blood sugar levels--Type 2 diabetics take note! (Approximately 2 to 2 ½ cups per day.)

  5. Deuces. Caffeine is a stimulant (hence the excellent aforementioned endurance), and as such, it can cause increased contractions of stomach muscles, which means potential abdominal pain, diarrhea, and increased bowel movements. IBS, Crohn’s disease, colitis, or any other individuals with delicate digestion may want to take heed

  6. Tape worm or caffeine? Caffeine acts as an inhibitor in absorbing some nutrients, and it also causes calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron to be forced out in urination.  Such a shame to lose ALL the benefits of the many foods you’re adding to your diet!

  7. Don’t let caffeine take your power--you are woman, hear you ROAR! Caffeine has been linked to increased risk of/exacerbation of: Fibrocystic breast disease, PMS, osteoporosis, infertility problems, miscarriage, low birth weight, and menopausal problems such as hot flashes. In addition, birth control pills can affect the capacity of the body to detoxify caffeine, so these risks are increased proportionally.

  8. Like salt on a slug… As we age, our hormones change and our caffeine tolerance may decrease (i.e. the production of DHEA and melatonin). Unfortunately… caffeine is also dehydrating, which contributes to aging of the skin and kidneys.  In addition, caffeine prevents optimal DNA repair and slows liver detoxification. All of these things contribute to accelerated aging.

  9. Do your adrenals need a nap? Adrenal fatigue is becoming more and more mainstream, and it, too, can be exacerbated by caffeine. A stimulant which binds to adenosine receptors in the brain, this can cause excess stimulation at the adrenal glands.

On Adrenal Fatigue…

We are a stressed out generation of humans.  Are we more stressed out than people who were living during the plague?  I mean… I don’t know about that.  But we are overstimulated, under rested, and typically running on empty.  None of this is easy on the human body, and it definitely takes a toll on the adrenal glands.

A brief and general description of the adrenal glands:  triangle-shaped endocrine glands that perch on top of your kidneys. They’re main purpose is to regulate stress.

Many are operating under a condition known as adrenal fatigue--the adrenals are worn out from all the stress they’re constantly regulating.  

There are a number of different symptoms of adrenal fatigue, and it’s best to check it out under the hood with your doctor.  Some common symptoms of over exhausted adrenals are:

  • Excessive sweating or perspiration from little activity
  • Lower back pain and/or knee weakness or pain, especially on the side
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Muscle twitches
  • Low blood sugar
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sensitivity to light, or difficulty seeing at night
  • Cravings for salt
  • Low stamina for stress, and easily irritated
  • Excessive mood responses after eating carbohydrates such as pasta, breads and sugar
  • Chronic infections (bacterial, viral, fungal, yeast)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Light-headedness upon standing up
  • Tired but wired feeling, poor sleep
  • Cravings for sweets and carbs, intolerance to alcohol
  • Premature aging
  • Dry, unhealthy skin with excess pigmentation
  • Lack of libido
  • Cystic breasts
  • Tendency to startle easily
  • Negative response to thyroid hormone

The best ways to lend some support to your adrenals are many things you are likely already putting an effort into doing:

  • Plain and simple: you have to prioritize sleep to strengthen your adrenals.
  • Your adrenal glands are assisting in regulating your blood sugar levels, so saying adios to simple sugar and processed carbs will also reduce their workload. Sugar and artificial, processed, and refined carbs put stress on the adrenals.   
  • Take a good look at your caffeine habit and assess how you need to adjust your intake.

This is a lot of info on one small little bean, and I invite you to consider it all and draw a conclusion that feels like the best answer for where you are right now.  It’s my opinion that, barring any medical conditions, a little bit of coffee isn’t going to completely ruin anyone.  The major crux behind the issue of adrenal fatigue linked to caffeine is it (using it as a tool to manage lack of sleep) or what I refer to as “Starbucks-ing it”.  Many coffee shops such as Starbucks are… loosely based on coffee (filled with milks, sugars, and “chemical instead of” sugar-free flavors).  Coffee becomes more of a problem when it's no longer just coffee and has instead become dessert and controversial ingredients slurped up through a straw.  We’re then doubling down on the less than healthy effects of coffee:  caffeine AND simple sugars.

There was a time when I was drinking about 6-7 cups of coffee a day.  Admittedly, my life was unbalanced in many ways, and one of the things that was severely lacking was adequate sleep.  Coffee, then, became my lifeline.  Coffee was my fuel.  This lifestyle was completely unsustainable and burnout was inevitable.  I ended up diagnosing myself with adrenal fatigue and prescribing myself rest, sleep, and no more coffee.  

Initially, I didn't miss coffee.  I drank caffeine free teas, instead, and allowed my body to heal.

Then one day, I realized that I really and truly missed the actual taste of coffee.

The experience and routine of brewing a French Press batch.  The smell of coffee brewing in the morning.  The first sip of bitter warmth.  The inevitable stains on every item of clothing.

I began to incorporate coffee back into my life but with a very different mindset.  Coffee was no longer necessary; instead, it was something to be enjoyed.  I now make a concerted effort to drink coffee only when I want it, and not when I have tricked myself into thinking I need it.  

I have a French Press and buy quality coffee beans so I'm actually savoring the flavor of the coffee with minimal add-ins, if any at all (although I do love adding ground vanilla and a teaspoon of coconut oil or grassfed butter and blending it up in my Vitamix).  

Most importantly, I am aware of my thoughts and feelings around coffee.  I never feel restricted.  I never feel like I'm relying on it.

That's my experience.  

It's all about listening to what your body is telling you.  We're all unique individuals, and we all respond differently to a variety of conditions.

What are your thoughts on caffeine and how you’d like to move forward?

Oh, and I don’t start my days with coffee.  It may be my second beverage of the day, but I always start with 32 oz of warm water with some raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (with the Mother! Bragg’s is my preferred brand), cinnamon, ginger, cayenne, and squeeze of lemon.  When I’m sick, I add in some honey, too.

Why? Drinking lemon water aids in digestion, boosts immunity, and is great for your skin.

Apple cider vinegar is the true rockstar of the moment as it flies off the shelves, boasting antibiotic powers, anti-inflammatory properties, and the ability to ease indigestion. According to some studies, it can also help with hiccups and lower cholesterol.  It also has potassium, which thins mucus, and acetic acid which prevents germ growth, suppresses appetite, increases metabolism, has an anti-glycemic effect (slows the absorption of starches), and reduces water retention.  Oh, and let's not forget that the amino acids in apple cider vineagr act as an antitode to lactic acid build up in your body (what causes muscle fatigue when you're working out).  The potassium (which also thins mucus) can also contribute to increased energy! Many studies have been done, but none are necessarily conclusive.  Try it for yourself, and see how your body responds (just be sure to get the cider with the mother—i.e. the beneficial bacteria that is used to magically turn regular apple cider into apple cider vinegar; the "mother" is a cloudy web of sediment you can see at the bottom of a bottle. Clear/pasteurized vinegars are clean and clear and don't yield the same benefits of a cider avec the mother.)

Cinnamon is also antibiotic, and ginger and cayenne are both anti inflammatory.  This is just a small list of benefits! Try it on for size and see how this morning kick start reboots your morning.

Morning Kick Start

24-32 oz warm, filtered water
1-2 tbsp lemon juice (approximately 1/2 a small lemon, 1/4 large lemon)
1-2 tbs raw unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
1/16 - ⅛ tsp cayenne
⅛ tsp cinnamon
⅛ tsp ginger

Sources: 

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Brittany KrigerComment