I have a confession...
It's one that I'm sure will make every health professional shake their head and frown at me in disdain. Truthfully, it’s a confession of something that I’ve spent many years considering to be harmless, of a habit that I have cultivated over time and that somehow has infiltrated every waking moment of my life leaving me quite dependent.
I am addicted to caffeine.
If I'm forced to exist without it, I am quite miserable. Lethargic. Suffering from headaches. Nauseous. My mood plummets and I feel like I need two matchsticks to keep my eyes open. Heaven forbid anyone should ask me something that requires brain power; whilst I search the fog in my mind looking for a credible answer, I am secretly imagining ripping their head off their body and stapling it to the wall. You could say I’m cranky.
Give me a steaming cup of Joe though, and it all melts away. I am back on top form, ready to assail whatever challenges the day throws at me with gusto, aplomb and smiles all round. When I feel the dreaded fatigue sneaking up on me again, I simply reach for another coffee and voilà! I’m back to feeling right as rain in no time. Peppy old me.
When I’ve had enough of coffee (and it takes a lot of coffee to get this point), I reach for the tea. Less often a soda, but when I do, I guzzle hard; pints of stuff laced with sugar. Before bed, I’ll allow myself the occasional treat of a hot chocolate. Of course, I’ll have a few glasses of water (and probably wine) during this time as well, but predominantly, every other drink I’m consuming contains caffeine.
I think it’s safe to say that I’m caffeine dependent.
I’m not alone though. It’s a dependency I share with numerous other people all across the world, but one we rarely equate with the gravity of other addictions. It is the world’s most used psychoactive drug, the difference being it is legal and regulated in most parts and has in many places infiltrated itself right into the core heart of our regimes. We meet friends for coffees and catch ups, unwind with tea after a long day, juggle workloads over a steaming cup of coffee… the list goes on.
There have been lots of studies recently that have highlighted the fact that our caffeine addictions might not be so good for us after all. Though at the time, it helps us with fatigue and concentration, actually an overload of caffeine has a detrimental effect in the long run, as energy levels and alertness can suddenly plummet without warning. As a stimulant, caffeine is also addictive. That buzz makes you want to drink more and over a prolonged period of use, so your tolerance levels can rise making you dependent on larger qualities to get the same kick. Many health professionals suggest cutting caffeine from diets, or at least limiting the amount we consume.
There’s bad news for us menopausal girls as well.
Sadly, caffeine has been proven to have a detrimental effect on many symptoms of the menopause. Consumption can increase the frequency and severity of hot flushes, which according to the Mayo Clinic are the most commonly reported menopause symptoms ‘occurring in 79 percent of perimenopausal women and 65 percent of postmenopausal women’. Caffeine can impact sleeping patterns, which can be a nightmare for women already suffering from insomnia and interrupted sleep due to other menopausal symptoms.
The stimulating nature of caffeine can also have an impact on stress and anxiety levels due to the increase in the production of cortisol, a hormone that has many uses in the body and is released when we are stressed. In high doses it can inhibit brain function creating a feeling of panic and anxiousness; not great if this is already something you’re suffering from. Caffeine is also known to increase the level of homocysteine, a chemical found in the blood that can increase the risk of the dreaded osteoporosis.
So should I be giving up my cup of morning java?
Well, that depends entirely on you. Just like the menopause itself, caffeine reacts differently to everyone. Some will be able to have it by the bucket load, whilst for others one cup of something caffeinated will have a noticeable impact. Its worth considering a change in diet if you find that hot flushes or some of the other symptoms we’ve discussed are something that affect you quite severely.
Caffeine withdrawals are also… not nice. Last time I attempted to go cold turkey, a week of absolute misery ensued; I’m told it takes two weeks to really get over caffeine addiction. But as I’ve said before, I do drink a lot of coffee. For someone who only has the occasional cup, cutting it completely isn’t going to be that much of an issue and if you are like me, phasing your caffeine intake out slowly can help offset this.
Now there are more coffee alternatives available than ever, from decaf to chicory coffee, where the chicory root is roasted and ground in a similar way to a coffee bean (however, chicory coffee should be avoided if you are pregnant or trying to conceive).
But is that quits for me?
Imagining my life without coffee seems very bleak. It is my most enjoyable vice, one that has seen me through the dark days to the light. So like everything, I’m choosing moderation.
Are you a caffeine fiend? Have you got any good tips on how to cut down on coffee? Share your stories with us in the comments below...