Caffeine – Pick me up or Slow You Down

Coffee and caffeinated drinks are the number one ‘Go To’ for a pick me up when you are feeling worn down. Caffeine has become the cultural norm to get us going in the morning, even to the extent that some countries have put an age limit on selling caffeinated drinks to minors.

Suggesting to people that they might benefit from cutting back, when caffeine plays such an essential role can bring about shock, sweat and tears.

Like anything that takes priority in people’s lives, going cold turkey or black and white is not recommended but identifying what normal and being moderate is more the answer. Caffeine often nourishes adrenal fatigue, and in addition to playing a role in boosting insulin and energy, gets in the way of weight management, particularly around the waist.

If you think you are caught in a cycle of caffeine-induced ups and downs, it’s time to take a closer look and identify if it is disrupting your adrenal imbalance.  

Caffeine is not the cause of adrenal dysfunction, but it does have a metabolic effect on your body with excessive intake and prevent a restful sleep.

Our natural involuntary reaction to save ourselves during moments of danger are referred to as ‘flight or fright’. It begins at the Hypothalamus, Pituitary, Adrenal axis – HPA, to release stress hormones – epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine and cortisol. Some people love the adrenaline rush while others fear it – however, it gives us a jolt into action when real danger is present.

When you drink espresso coffee, you may have noticed that your heart beats faster, your muscles contract and you feel more energized. This is a very real response and can be used to benefit your brain and muscles if required such as to keep your mind on track and the power through an exercise class. Caffeine puts you into emergency overdrive, spurring your adrenals into action when there’s no need for these stress hormones to save a life. In fact, caffeine is so effective that sports committees have an upper legal limit which can be achieved from drinking 3 to 4 espresso shots.

Understanding the synergy between weight and adrenaline is a little cryptic but adrenalin triggers insulin to go scavenging for glucose and the sense of instant energy in fact comes from sugar and free fatty acids your liver has released into your bloodstream. Sometimes you may even feel a bit shaky and wonder why?

While the most critical function of your adrenals is to help with survival, its other function is to balance your hormones throughout your life, and even more so as you age.

Unless you have a sensitivity to caffeine, a cup or two a day is fine. Problems tend to come about when you rely on caffeine and when you are drinking stimulating beverages late in the day which can throw your hormones out of whack.

We have all heard of cortisone and know it better as a steroid cream. Cortisol, however is a steroid hormone that regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body, including metabolism and the immune response. It also has a very important role in helping the body respond to stress and integral to the flight or fight response which impacts survival, stress and your ability to get restful sleep.

The normal daily rhythm for cortisol is that it is high in the morning to make you want to bounce out of bed and face the day, and lower at night to wind down and drift into a peaceful sleep. Caffeine changes the natural rhythm of cortisol, turning what is referred to as your circadian rhythm diurnal cycle upside down. When cortisol is frequently high, your body gets into a hyper-alert state, and starts to lose its edge by giving way to exhaustion. The cycle perpetuates when you turn again to more coffee to try and regain energy but in fact start to crash. Adrenal glands are not only responsible for stress hormones, but also maintain appropriate levels of sex hormones.

Insulin resistance complicates this further as tissues cannot process liver glucose and fatty acids. For many people, turning to caffeine is often a habit adopted to manage weight but in fact it does the opposite and exaggerates the metabolic effect by impacting insulin levels in a way that makes your blood sugar drop in the mid-afternoon. Symptoms such as fatigue, fuzzy brain and heart palpitations are often reported

Quitting caffeine can feel like an impossible task as it is not just addictive, but has a cultural and social impact. Just taking a step back is a good starting point whereby you take coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon. It is really about taking the burden off your adrenals and allow for healing to start, headaches to disappear and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Examining other lifestyle habits such as nutrition, meal timings, digestive health and how you handle stress is also important. Breaking the cycle of insomnia can be hard. Curbing caffeine intake is a start as well as some very useful well researched supplements.

Magnesium is a mineral with wide-ranging effects in the body and due its ability to calm tissue, it can promote sleep. It is one of the most abundant minerals and present in many foods.

It’s essential for human health and used in every cell and organ as well as contributing to bone health. The brain and heart are very sensitive organs and it is often recommended that magnesium is taken for their proper functioning and calming effect. Magnesium supplements have been well research for its benefits to calm the fright flight effect, for fighting inflammation, relieving constipation and lowering blood pressure.

Because of its ability to relax the body regulates the hormone melatonin, which guides sleep-wake cycles in your body, it is recommended that you don’t overdo supplementation. Three to four hundred mg is usually an effective dose to relax the body and the mind and help to drift off into an easy slumber.

You can get magnesium through drinking water and eating foods such as green vegetables, nuts and seeds, cereals, meat, fish and fruit.

Another pathway that works to keep you calm is the serotonin pathway which uses the amino acid L-tryptophan absorbed from foods such as milk, cocoa, bananas, turkey and cherries, to make 5hydroxy tryptophan, serotonin and what we dream of, melatonin.

GABA is an inhibitory amino acid that helps calm the body and the brain to relieve tension and over stimulation. GABA works on its own neurotransmitter receptors to reduce anxiety but has a short life and is not stored.

Anxiety is a normal response to stress or a dangerous situation. However, it is a very common mental health issue often caused by the ‘fight or flight’ response and can be a driver for other problems. Conventional treatments for anxiety often include a combination of psychotropic drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy. Natural remedies for anxiety offer alternative therapies with no adverse side effects and backed up with proven scientific research. These remedies include supplements like magnesium, GABA and vitamin B complex, herbs and essential oils. Dietary and lifestyle changes will also help to relieve anxiety symptoms naturally.