Friday, July 13, 2018

Quitting caffeine

Ask yourself this question: what does it take for you to give up something you really enjoy? The answer for me is vanity and comfort.

I mentioned quitting caffeine in the comments the other day, and said I would follow up on it. This past year, hot flashes and night sweats began for me. (The fun of menopause, yay!) One month I could be totally composed when talking with friends and acquaintances, and the next I was a sporadically-sweaty mess. I don't just mean underarm sweat, I mean full-body, face, neck, just under the bra-line. If I wore a dark t-shirt, the sweat on my mid-section showed through. If I stood in sunlight, even if indoors by a window, I broke into a sweat and had to begin disrobing. I remember one Sunday, working at our welcome center in church, I was talking with a woman that I only barely know, and the flashes began. I had dressed in layers, but still I had to begin peeling them off. Fortunately, this woman is near my age, so if she hasn't begun this phase of our bodies, she will soon. That's the vanity part.

Comfort is the other motivating component for me. At night, waking up as I feel the heat rising, it's like someone is turning a dial which is raising my body temperature. Then feeling cruddy for the rest of the night. And two other comfort-related things that I didn't even connect to my caffeine consumption, heart palpitations and muscle twitches. Since I was in my early 20s I have had occasional heart palpitations. It would feel like my heart was racing, beating extra hard, or fluttering. This would last about 20 to 30 seconds. I was in college the first time I noticed the palpitations. I went to the health center and the nurse just said it was probably stress and not to worry. My mom told me she had the same thing for years. So I just lived with them, thinking this was just part of the "normal" of my own body. Well, guess what? Quitting caffeine has also put a stop (or almost stop) to the heart palpitations. I have had 1 event of extra hard beating (when at rest) in the last 6 months. In comparison, this used to happen to me once per week or more. I had no idea that my caffeine consumption was doing this.

The other caffeine-related comfort item that I dealt with for many years, but didn't know it was the caffeine, was muscle twitches. When I was in my 30s I developed a chronic and painful muscle twitch in the thumb of my right hand. It was so painful that I brought it up to my doctor. I was referred to a neurologist. Both my primary and the specialist said it wasn't anything significant and would likely go away on its own. Gee, thanks. That twitching (and associated pain) lasted for months, and then would come back from time to time (every other month, for a day or two). At about the same time, I developed other twitches, although most of these would last about 2 weeks, and then disappear as mysteriously as they came. Since quitting caffeine I have only had a couple of minor incidents of muscle-twitching. The twitching in my hand has not returned at all in 6 months. This is a complete change. Even when the twitching was not so severe as to cause pain, I could look at my hand at any given time and see the muscle contracting under the skin. It's completely at rest now.

So, I wondered, did quitting caffeine bring about these positive changes? I went to doctor google and found that yes, caffeine can cause both heart palpitations and muscle twitches or spasms. The twitching may have been an indirect result of caffeine consumption, as caffeine is a diuretic, which can result in an imbalance in electrolytes. And the heart palpitations may have been too much stimulant running through my body.

These issues weren't so significant that I would think to discuss them with my doctor, except for the painful twitching which got me referred to a neurologist. I brushed them off as just part of my body. I wasn't really drinking all that much caffeinated coffee or tea, a few cups per day, spread out over the whole day. I never would have guessed that I would benefit as much as I have from quitting caffeine.And when I say quitting, I really mean, making a severe reduction in consumption. I still drink decaf coffee, and have small amounts of chocolate, both have some caffeine, but not in the league of fully-caffeinated coffee or even tea.

One other benefit I have noticed, I'm a restless sleeper. About 2-3 nights per week, on average, I wake around 3 or 4 AM, and lie there awake for an hour or more. I used to become so irritable when I would have a wakeful period in the night. It bugged me, terribly. Now, I don't feel that irritability. I lay there awake and think about things for a bit, then pleasantly drift back off to sleep. My sleep is more relaxing. This change also happened as soon as I was off fully-caffeinated coffee.

So, what caffeine do I drink/eat and what do I avoid? I never drink caffeinated coffee. I ask and double check, when ordering decaf coffee in a restaurant. This is one area about which I am vigilant. It feels weird to have to draw such a hard line on it, but I know myself, this is the only way I can keep my caffeine consumption mega-low. I always choose decaf. I know there is decaffeinated black and green tea, but I have stayed away from it, for the most part. Again, I think I just don't want to tempt myself and think, "well, 1 cup of regular tea can't hurt me" then the slippery slope begins. Eventually I'll feel more sure of myself with this. Instead, I drink herb teas. I like the fruity ones (I think its Celestial Seasonings that has some wonderful fruity herb teas), plus mint tea, lemon balm, and lavender/camomile blend. I grow the ingredients for the last 3 teas. I also like spicy infusions, like part of a cinnamon stick, a couple of whole cloves, and a few slices of fresh tart apple infused in a pot of simmering water.

For the most part, I don't drink soda. The sugared ones give me a tummy ache, and the diet ones give me a headache. If I want a sweetened, chilled drink, it's either iced herb tea, juice or lemonade. I still have a little chocolate, here and there. I make soy cocoa, by the cup for myself, when I want it, using 1  1/2 teaspoons of cocoa powder. I have an occasional dish of chocolate ice cream (by occasional I mean that I've had one dish of it this summer), I eat a few pieces of chocolate per month, like a dozen Hershey's Kisses spread out over a month. Instead, I am making the deliberate choice to select a different-flavored sweet, like black licorice or fruity flavored baked goods and candy. I love Australian-style black licorice. WinCo carries it in the bulk bins for a really good price. When I'm not near WinCo, the next best price on Australian black licorice is at Dollar Tree. I think I kind of got stuck in a rut of always choosing chocolate for candy. Lately, I've been thinking about the types of treats I would choose when I was a child and young teen. It wasn't so chocolate heavy, but instead I enjoyed more of the fruity flavors.

How did I quit caffeine, and did I get a headache? I quit gradually, over many months. I began by mixing regular coffee, half and half with decaf coffee. Then after a few months I reduced the regular coffee to about 1/4, and so on, until one week I just decided, "this is the  week" and I just started making myself decaf coffee all of the time. At that point I also stopped the caffeinated teas, and reduced my chocolate consumption. Not a single headache which was related to cutting out caffeine. I'm not as alert as I used to be in the mornings. I would never schedule something which required a keen focus before 10 AM. But I just accept that. I can do normal stuff in the early hours, I'm just not super alert. And speaking of headaches, my migraines are now less frequent, and they last 1 day less (2-day migraines instead of 3-day). I don't know if that has anything to do with the caffeine. It could also be a hormone adjustment with this phase of my body.

As for those hot flashes and night sweats, I noticed an immediate benefit. Drinking a cup of coffee was a hot flash trigger for me. I would have just finished half a cup and a flash would begin.  I still have hot flashes and night sweats, but they seem less intense, and less frequent. It was a few flashes per hour with the caffeine. It's now a few times per day, and not so bad. I haven't had an embarrassing moment of a huge drench of public sweat since the first of the year, which is exactly when I quit the caffeine. Some of this may be due to my body adapting to the hormone shift, but I also believe that part of it is the lack of caffeine coursing through my veins at all times.

I have also learned which clothing items are a no-go for me right now. Fleece is pretty bad for hot flashes. It traps too much body heat, which can also be a trigger. I wear a lot of cotton. I almost bought a super pretty dress to wear to my daughter's graduation. But the fabric was too sweat-inducing, I thought. In the end, I wore cotton pants and a cotton top. I sleep in cotton sleep-shorts and a baggy cotton t-shirt, which makes sense for summer, but in winter I was also sleeping in lightweight clothing. 

So, my vanity and my comfort motivated me to do something really good for my body. I never could have given up caffeine if it had just been because maybe it would be better for my health. I was able to quit temporarily with each pregnancy, but that was it. For 35 years I drank a lot of coffee.

For comparison sake, how much caffeine is in various food and drink?


for 8 oz beverages:

herb tea, root beer, citrus soda -- 0
decaf coffee or decaf black tea -- 2-5 mg
cocoa made with 1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder -- 8 mg
brewed green tea --  25-29 mg
cola -- 24-46 mg
brewed black tea -- 25-48 mg
instant coffee -- 63 mg
brewed coffee -- 95-165 mg

for chocolate treats:

half-cup of chocolate ice cream -- 2 mg
1 Hershey's Special Dark Miniature or 4 Hershey's Kisses, milk chocolate -- 4 mg
chocolate cake with chocolate frosting -- 9 mg
1 oz dark chocolate 69-85% cacao (like Lindt) -- 23 mg


Keep in mind, the stronger the brewed coffee or tea, the more caffeine. So, if you use loose-leaf tea and use more than what would be in a tea bag, your cup will have more caffeine. Percolated and boiled (Greek or Turkish) coffee has more caffeine than drip or French press. If you're getting a Starbucks coffee beverage, your drink may have more than 8 oz of coffee. A 24 oz Frappuccino, made with regular coffee has 130 mg caffeine. As well, different beans and different roasts have different amounts of caffeine, for example, 8 oz. of Starbucks Pike Place roast has 155 mg caffeine, 8 oz of Starbucks Clover brewed coffee has 170 mg caffeine, while 8 oz of the Blond Roast has 180 mg. And the size names don't indicate quantity. The Short isn't even on the printed menu. But it's the 8-oz size beverage at Starbucks. You have to ask for it, specifically. The Tall is 12 oz, the Grande is 16 oz, and the Venti is 24 oz. For your information, a Venti Blond Roast has 475 mg caffeine.

I wasn't drinking Venti Blond Roasts, daily, but I was consuming in the neighborhood of 400 mg of caffeine each day. It didn't seem like a lot, as it was spread out over the whole day. My coffee mugs hold about 12 oz, so my one cup of coffee was really 1  1/2 cups.

It should also be noted that chocolate has theobromine, another stimulant. Some people are more sensitive to it than others.

Anyway, that's my story of quitting (or mostly quitting) caffeine. I'm not legalistic about it. I realize that I am still getting maybe 15 to 25 mg of caffeine per day, but that is about 1/20 of what I had been consuming. And with fewer and less intense migraines, practically no heart palpitations or muscle twitches, less intense and fewer hot flashes/night sweats, I think this was well-worth making the change. If you have any questions, I'll be happy to answer.