How to beat caffeine addiction?

Coffee is one of the most commonly consumed beverages globally and contains the highest amount of caffeine amongst all caffeinated beverages. In addition to coffee, caffeine is also present in tea, colas and energy drinks.

The urge to consume caffeinated beverages can be attributed to their psychoactive effects on the nervous system. Caffeine acts as a brain stimulant, increasing alertness and improving your ability to focus. This effect of caffeine depends on a person’s age, body mass, liver function and many other factors which impact the metabolism of caffeine in the body. On the flip side, in higher doses, caffeine is known to cause indigestion, palpitations, tremors, headache and insomnia. A lot of research has been done on the medical benefits and risks of caffeine; however, there has been no conclusive evidence to prove that caffeine is completely detrimental. Most of the risks associated with caffeine are attributed to heavy consumption (>6000 mg/day) whereas low to moderate consumption (130–300 mg/day) is considered safe.

Regular consumption of caffeine is associated with tolerance adaptation and withdrawal symptoms. Tolerance refers to the decreased responsiveness to caffeine on repeated use. As proven in several studies, caffeine withdrawal symptoms manifest in headaches, irritability, inability to concentrate, or drowsiness which occur on stopping consumption of caffeine.

Caffeine addiction becomes a major problem when individuals who suffer from medical or psychological problems such as generalized anxiety/panic disorders, difficulties with sleep, heartburn and belching (due to gastroesophageal reflux) get addicted to it. These medical conditions are known to be aggravated by caffeine, and cutting down or avoiding its consumption could lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Caffeine alternatives play a pivotal role in curbing the use of caffeine. Decaffeinated drinks are a substitute for caffeine wherein the caffeine in the coffee beans, cocoa, tea leaves or any other caffeine-containing products is removed by various methods. However, decaffeinating does not guarantee that the final product is totally caffeine-free.

It would be safer for those who consume too much coffee to switch to tea, as it contains less caffeine than coffee. Green tea is a better option due to its antioxidant properties.

Many of us use caffeinated drinks like coffee as stress busters, to relieve anxiety or purely for the pleasure of relaxing over a cuppa! The most effective and safe option to help curb caffeine dependence in this case is by making changes in lifestyle. These include:
· Regular moderate exercise such as walking for at least 30 to 45 minutes, 5–6 times a week.
· Balanced diet with daily intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.
· Healthy sleeping habits – sufficient sleep of at least 6–7 hours; going to bed at the same time everyday.
· Measures to relieve stress such as yoga and meditation.
In a survey on caffeine alternatives, former coffee drinkers indicated the substitutes they used to get over their addiction. While 37 percent switched to herbal tea, 23 percent chose plain water. Other substitutes included milk and orange juice (4.5 percent), regular tea (3.5 percent), soft drinks (4.5 percent) and decaffeinated coffee (5 percent).

While no alternatives can guarantee results, the only sure formula to beat caffeine addiction is determination and commitment towards giving it up.

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Image: Flickr Creativecommons Dennis Wong