Should I Take A Break From Coffee?

The strong reactions I get when I ask someone to give up coffee continues to amaze me. Not give up indefinitely. Not abstain for a year. But for thirty days. A blink of the eye when compared to the length of a lifetime. So it may be hard to imagine that I like to subject myself to this torture at least once a year. Actually, like might be a bit of a stretch, but I do think it’s a good practice to give up coffee as a regular practice, just like you get your teeth cleaned annually. And I say this confidently as someone who loves coffee. Like actual coffee; not a sugared-up milky version that some people like to call coffee. I’m talking about a bold cup of joe, the kind that would make Agent Dale Cooper call a damn fine coffee.

So why would I, a coffee lover (and former barista), voluntarily give up such a coveted drink?

It’s true that coffee (sans sugar) has been shown to have a wide range of health benefits. Of the thousands of chemicals found in coffee, some of them (chlorogenic acids, lignans, quinides, and trigonelline) have been demonstrated to lower inflammation, reduce insulin resistance (think diabetes) and cardiovascular disease. Coffee has also been found to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, increase your alertness and endurance, and may even reduce your risk for certain cancers. Not to mention, coffee may even extend your life expectancy so it’s no wonder that it’s the most widely consumed beverage in the world. If anything, it appears that we should be consuming coffee daily right alongside our multivitamin and fish oil, so why in the heck would I suggest taking a break?

As much as we may not want to admit it, coffee is a stimulant, a drug, and therefore has drug-like effects. With any drug, we can become dependent and develop a tolerance, having to continually increase our dose to get the same effect. Think of how easy is it over time to go from drinking one cup in the morning, to two cups in the morning, and then adding in a third cup in the afternoon for a much needed pick-me-up.

Every delicious cup taxes your liver since your liver is the main organ responsible for metabolizing the caffeine so it can be flushed out of your system. And as women, we have enough going on with our almost weekly hormone changes and constant chemical exposure to keep our livers busy enough as is.

Like any drug, coffee is a beautiful liar. Coffee deceives us into thinking that those repeated nights of less-than-stellar sleep aren’t affecting your ability to think, your mood or even your skin. Coffee softly whispers to us that it’s ok to keep pushing yourself with long work days. Coffee gently lifts the heavy blanket of fatigue that threatens to force you into a week-long hibernation. But these are all sweet, sweet lies.

If a substance, habit, or person is preventing you from listening to your body, you may want to rethink your relationship with it. Take a break. Set boundaries to redefine your relationship. Especially if just the idea of giving it up for a month is akin to torture, that alone may be the insight you need. One of the most powerful things we can do to improve our health is to listen. Each and every symptom you experience is your body trying to communicate with you. By listening and taking action, you are moving yourself towards better health.

I’m just past the three week mark of not having coffee. The first week was challenging and day two in particular was horrendous. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought I came down with the flu and just wanted to stay in bed all day. But feeling that way further solidified my reasons for taking a break from coffee. If I feel that horrible by removing something supposedly innocuous, what exactly is it doing to my body when I consume it regularly?

Because of my true love for coffee, I know that I will not avoid it forever. I haven’t set a reunion date yet but I plan on treating coffee more like a once a week treat than a requirement just to get through my day. So if that means I can’t power through work, only get one thing done on my never-ending to do list, or need to get to bed earlier in lieu of having a heavenly cup, I know that my long-term health will thank me for it.  And with coffee alternatives like Teeccino and Dandy Blend, there is no reason why coffee can’t be more of an acquaintance than a best friend.

So quit for the sake of quitting; to know that you can quit. Quit so you can reconnect with your body and listen deeply. Quit to know that nothing external has complete power over you and everything you do in your life is a choice. And if it does have some type of lingering power, get the help you need to loosen hold of that power until you can fully let go. You never know what’s on the other side until you let go of what’s holding you back. Perhaps a nice cup of green tea and a renewed sense of energy. What do you have to lose?

References
1) Gavrilyuk O, et al. “High coffee consumption and different brewing methods in relation to postmenopausal endometrial cancer risk in the Norwegian Women and Cancer Study: a population-based prospective study.” BMC Women’s Health. 2014; 14: 48
2) “Longevity Benefits Seen with Moderate Coffee Drinking.” Health and Nutrition Letter. Tufts University. 2016. 33 (12): 1-3) Taylor S, Demmig-Adams B. “To sip or not to sip: the potential health risks and benefits of coffee drinking.” Nutrition & Food Science. 2007. 37 (6): 406-418.

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4 Responses to “Should I Take A Break From Coffee?

  • Hi Dr. Russell,
    Is de-caf coffee OK to drink?

    • Great question! Teeccino actually has a great article about decaf coffee on their website. Basically, I would say to abstain that as well because a) it still has some caffeine and b) there are a TON of chemicals used to remove the caffeine so your body will be exposed to those chemicals instead.

  • Great first hand report on coffee addiction as well as a good example for others to follow. I didn’t think I could ever give up caffeine until the Challenge that you encouraged me to undertake last September. I’m still caffeine free and don’t miss it at all! I decided that I didn’t want any substance to control my life. Thanks for the encouragement!
    Karen Serra

  • Just over a year ago I realized I was over the top drinking 4 cups of coffee a day. So I quit…cold turkey. Three days later I lost a day of work to caffeine withdrawal! Since then I’ve reduced my cups of Joe to 1 a day and none at all on weekends and holidays…and feel much better for it.

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