The Hidden Link Between Stress, Aging and Caffeine

It’s the common complaint you hear uttered by friends, family and co-workers throughout the day. “I just can’t get going without my cup of coffee!” What happened to the days of childhood when we used to bound out of bed with plenty of energy and we kept going at an energetic pace until night? Most people assume that age causes diminished energy supply, but the latest research is shedding new light on lifestyle practices that ultimately lead to fatigue.

Although we reach for the coffee or tea cup hoping to boost our energy, studies show that we are actually inducing a state of stress. Caffeine drives the adrenal glands to produce stress hormones that can remain in the blood stream up to 18 hours after consumption. These hormones produce the “fight or flight” response nature designed to help save our lives when every bit of energy was required to survive an impending disaster such as an attack by a foe. In today’s world, where we are more often sitting at a desk, driving in our car, or eating a meal, caffeine can put us into a chronic state of stress with no way for our body to burn off the extra fuel and hormones. Caffeine-induced stress can produce mood swings and insomnia, increase muscle tension, impair digestion and nutrition, restrict blood circulation to the brain, elevate blood pressure, create blood sugar swings, and accelerate heart rate. Yet the lines at the local coffee bar are still stretching out the door with people desperate for their next caffeine fix.

Caffeine addiction is rampant in our society. Caffeine is the only unregulated drug in our food supply. There are no requirements for the quantity of caffeine to be labeled on foods or soft drinks. Most people don’t know that their coffee flavored ice cream or yogurt may be supplying a hefty dose of caffeine just when they want to relax at the end of a hectic day. Mothers don’t suspect that the root beer and orange soda they are giving their children may also contain caffeine. Students studying late at night don’t realize that caffeine restricts the oxygen flow to their brain up to 30% and impairs memory retention. Under the guise of alertness, caffeine has fooled them into thinking they will be better prepared for their exams in the morning.

While the adrenals are busy pumping out cortisol to send energy to the muscles and divert energy from the digestive and immune systems, there is a very important hormone they aren’t making: DHEA. It turns out that the adrenals have to reduce their production of the most important anti-aging hormone your body requires for youth and longevity in order to produce the stress hormones that ultimately weaken your immune system and impair your health. DHEA is the mother hormone for all the sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone as well as it increases your brain’s seratonin levels naturally. So if you’ve been feeling down in the dumps and your lover no longer interests you, check out how much caffeine you are consuming daily in that coffee mug of yours!

The caffeine industry created a nice deception to make you think you’re not drinking that much caffeine. It turns out that a cup of coffee is not your normal 8 oz cup, but a mere 5 oz cup. So when you read that a couple of cups of coffee a day shouldn’t be any problem to your health, think of one 10 oz mug because that is what they are actually talking about. When you add to that the statistics for caffeine content in a cup of coffee brewed at popular coffee bars, you’ll find out that you can expect up to 300 mg in that 10 oz cup, not the 150 mg you might find in a cup of coffee from your own coffee maker.

Decaf coffee drinkers who think they have switched to a healthier choice will be surprised to find out that a Stanford University study showed that decaf coffee raises the cholesterol higher and faster than regular coffee. A cup of decaf coffee still contains around 7 mg of caffeine. Plus, the beans chosen for decaf coffee have a higher acidic content than regular coffee to compensate for flavor loss during the decaffeination process. Since antacids are the top selling over-the-counter drug in America, it is evident that many people suffer from the acidity of coffee!

With all this bad news about our favorite legal drug habit, you may be wondering what is my alternative? Stephen Cherniske M.S., the author of Caffeine Blues (Warner 1998) recommends switching to caffeine-free herbal coffee. Herbal coffee, made from carob, chicory, barley, dates, figs and almonds, can be brewed right in your same coffee maker. It contains significant amounts of potassium to give you a natural energy lift. Potassium is added to sports recovery beverages because it helps your muscles and brain recover from fatigue. Herbal coffee is also alkaline for your system unlike coffee and tea which are highly acidic. Plus, chicory has high levels of inulin that is food for your digestive flora. Inulin will help establish a healthy colony of bifidus bacteria in the colon where they create B vitamins, help you absorb your minerals like calcium and iron, and enhance your immune system. If you depend on caffeine to drive your elimination, bifidus bacteria will help you become regular without dependency on stimulants.

Kicking the Caffeine Habit

Caffeine withdrawal headaches can be incapacitating. Often they are accompanied by fatigue as your body starts to recuperate from its former caffeine-driven pace. But it is not as hard as you may think to ease yourself off of caffeine if you use a two week weaning program. By slowly reducing the amount of caffeine you consume daily, you can avoid those withdrawal headaches and help your adrenal glands recover. You may be surprised to find in 2 to 3 months that you feel better than you’ve felt since you were a child and once again, you have an abundance of energy and enthusiasm for life!

It may interest you to know why you get a headache when you skip your morning cup. Caffeine acts a as powerful vasoconstrictor in the brain. That is, it constricts blood vessels in the brain and decreases circulation and oxygen supply by up to 30%! When caffeine is not present, the sudden increased circulation causes headaches. While this keeps millions of people addicted to the caffeine habit, the good news is that you can avoid this pitfall by slowly weaning yourself off caffeine over a two to three week period.

Start by mixing your normal coffee 3/4 to 1/4 caffeine-free herbal coffee. Gradually reduce the percentage of your coffee over a two-three week period until you are drinking 100% herbal coffee. You should be able to avoid the headaches and also gradually adjust your body to less reliance on stimulants.

Try these herbal tonics to help rebuild adrenal health and detoxify the body:

  • Siberian Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
  • Panax Ginseng (Panax ginseng or quinquefolius)
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
  • Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera)
  • Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)

    Some heavy coffee drinkers experience “brain fog” in the first month or so of quitting
    caffeine. Good nutrition along with a bioenergetic supplement coupled with some herbal extracts including gotu kola and gingko biloba will help you clear that fog and restore your normal brain clarity.

    Beware of products parading as energy uppers that simply contain more harmful
    stimulants. Many of them depend on caffeine from lesser known sources such as
    guarana, kola nut, and yerba maté, or ephedrine from Ma Huang.

    Caroline MacDougall is an herbalist with 25 years of expertise designing caffeine-free herbal beverages. She has designed herbal beverages for The Republic of Tea, Yogi Tea, Uncle Lee’s Tea, Seelect Teas, and Teeccino Caffé.

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    Written by Caroline MacDougall

    Explore Wellness in 2021