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Sunday, August 11, 2013

How to Quit Caffeine or Reduce your Caffeine Intake

How much caffeine are you getting?

I was surprised to learn how much caffeine I was getting every day.  I was drinking two 16 ounce cups of strong coffee brewed from fresh ground coffee beans.  From this caffeine table, I learned I was getting about 400 milligrams (mg) per cup, a total of 800 mg of caffeine every morning.  That is a lot of caffeine!  For reference, a Five Hour Energy has 200 mg of caffeine and a 20 oz Mountain Dew has 90 mg of caffeine.

Caffeine molecule
Should you quit caffeine or reduce caffeine consumption?
Image by Icey, ClockworkSoul- Public Domain

As they say, caffeine is slightly habit forming.  I didn't feel right if I didn't get my 2 big cups of coffee promptly each morning.  I decided to reduce my caffeine intake to a more manageable level.

How much caffeine is too much?

Caffeine affects individuals in different ways- some people metabolize caffeine more rapidly and can tolerate higher levels of caffeine better.  For me, I would say 800 milligrams a day was too much.  One issue was the logistics of getting that much caffeine.  I would brew and carry two cups of coffee with me.  Sometimes I would need to stop to use a restroom on drive to work.  When travelling it was sometimes not possible to get that much coffee before the day started.  Once when visiting my brother, who is not a coffee drinker, I was climbing the walls until he took me to Einstein Brothers for a couple cups of coffee.  He was pretty amused by how badly I wanted some coffee.

Health effects of caffeine is a complex issue.  From what I understand, your blood pressure does increase for a short time, for example one week, when you first start taking in caffeine- but then your blood pressure stabilizes and is no longer elevated after that.  I have also seen reports that drinking a small amount of coffee every day makes your blood vessels more flexible and actually reduces blood pressure.  But please check out health effects of caffeine for yourself- I am not a doctor.  Well, actually I am a doctor, but not that kind.

Another health effect of caffeine is sleep disruption.  This was not really a problem for me since all of my caffeine consumption was in the morning.  The half life of caffeine in the human body is approximately 8 hours, so by evening most of the caffeine from your morning coffee has been metabolized and is not going to keep you awake or disrupt your sleep.  However some people drink coffee in the afternoon, and even at night.  This is almost certain to cause sleep disruption which can have a range of negative health effects.

Caffeine in high doses can cause headaches and jumpiness.  I did experience a caffeine headache from too much caffeine once and it was not pleasant.  You can also get headaches from caffeine withdrawal- if you are not able to get your morning coffee, you may get a headache and generally feel crummy.  I also experienced this type of headache many times when my caffeine supply was disrupted for various reasons.

Cutting your caffeine intake can save you money.  If you don't "need" several cups of coffee each day, you can certainly reduce your coffee spending.  If you don't require as much caffeine to get through the day, you can choose lower cost or free beverages instead of springing for highly caffeinated coffee which goes for over $2 per cup at coffee shops.

How to reduce caffeine intake and still enjoy great coffee

So, you've decided to cut back on caffeine or even quit caffeine.  How can you reduce your caffeine intake, avoid headaches and withdrawal symptoms, and still enjoy great coffee?  You want to slowly reduce your caffeine intake, avoiding sudden changes.  I tried suddenly cutting my caffeine intake in half and this caused headaches and I felt grumpy and couldn't concentrate.  After going back to my full level of caffeine, I slowly stepped down my caffeine level over a two week period.  I was able to adjust easily to this rate of change.

There are methods to gradually reduce your caffeine intake:
Method 1:  You can just cut back on the amount of coffee grounds you use each day- and cut back on the water by the corresponding amount to gradually reduce your caffeine consumption.

Method 2: Another approach is to mix decaf coffee grounds with your regular coffee grounds, gradually increasing the ratio of decaf to regular.  This method has the advantage that you still get your normal amount of coffee all the time, which can be easier to deal with than having less coffee each day.

There are a number of coffee substitutes such as chickory, carob root, Teccino, Pero, Postum, and others that have little or no caffeine.  These can be mixed with coffee grounds, or used to replace a second cup of regular coffee.  Also hot tea (either black tea or green tea) has much less caffeine than coffee- try to substitute tea for some of your coffees.

Method 3:  Set a strict cut-off time for caffeinated coffee.  For example no coffee (except decaf) after 10am or noon, etc.  This will help you reduce or avoid sleep problems, and can help you lower your overall caffeine intake.

You may find the best approach for you is to use a combination of all of these methods to gradually reduce your caffeine intake.  If you cut caffeine too quickly, you will have withdrawal symptoms and are likely to resume your previous high level of caffeine intake to relieve your symptoms.

My goal was to cut back to a single 16 ounce of regular coffee per day, which I reached after 2 weeks of gradually reducing caffeine intake.  This seems like a manageable and moderate level of caffeine intake, and I focus on making one great cup of regular fully-caffeinated coffee every morning.  After that I switch to decaf coffee, decaf black tea, and green tea.

If you decide to go further in reducing your caffeine intake, how do you completely quit caffeine?

Quit Caffeine

The approach to quit caffeine is the same for reducing caffeine intake- keep reducing your caffeine intake gradually each day.  If you want to quit caffeine, you'll need to keep going until you are drinking only decaf or coffee substitutes.  To really quit caffeine completely, you'll need to watch out for caffeine from sources other than coffee such as soda, tea, and chocolate.

I think enjoying coffee in moderation is good for you.  As with most things, too much of even a good thing can have consequences.  It is worth considering how much caffeine is the maximum you want each day, allowing you to enjoy some coffee without negative consequences of too much caffeine.

Copyright © 2013 by Dr. Penny Pincher.  All Rights Reserved. Coffee Maker Journal

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the information. Coffee--and caffeine--is a great weight loss tool. It is a powerful anti-oxidant, which is important for your recovery from exercise and overall immune health. But it should not be taken in excess.

    Kopi Luwak.