Many of my friends start their active morning routine with a stop at the local coffee shop. Most of those friends also own some kind of coffee making apparatus and even their own grinder. Coffee is now a 30 billion dollar industry in the US. It is also an industry that is self-perpetuating: caffeine is highly addictive and the withdrawal symptoms are unpleasant. The other day one friend mentioned that she had been trying to quit coffee for over a year, but just couldn’t kick the habit. Part of her problem was the terrible headache she got when she tried to stop. She asked for an Ayurvedic perspective.
First and foremost, Ayurveda always recommends gradual shifts in changing diet and behavior. This is advice is especially appropriate when dealing with an addictive substance like caffeine. While the press now regularly touts the positive aspects of caffeine, the fact is that caffeine is a drug that alters your brain’s chemical and physical make-up.
Caffeine dissolves both in water and in fat-based substances. This means it dissolves in our blood and in our cell membranes. It also means that it can penetrate the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain. The caffeine molecule closely resembles adenosine, a natural byproduct of cellular respiration—and our brain carries receptors for the adenosine molecules. Caffeine molecules fit neatly into the adenosine receptors, blocking them off and masking feelings of tiredness.
When the adenosine receptors get blocked, the brain signals the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline, a natural stimulant.
Author Stephen R. Braun, author of “Buzzed: the Science and Lore of Caffeine and Alcohol”, calls caffeine a “stimulant enabler: a substance that lets our natural stimulants run wild”. Over time, coffee, tea, caffeinated sodas and energy drinks end up changing the way our brain is wired. The brain starts to build more adenosine receptors in response to the constant blockage of those receptors. It also starts decreasing receptors for adrenaline. Because of this, regular caffeine drinkers need to up their “dosage” over time. And the coffee (and caffeine) industry continues to grow.
It takes 7 – 12 days of no caffeine to allow the brain to return to its original configuration. During that time withdrawal symptoms can be quite intense and include fatigue, headaches and nausea.
So how to go about dropping the caffeine habit without suffering? Start by gradually increasing the amount of milk added to your coffee. Coffee aggravates both Vata and Pitta doshas (but in moderation can actually help balance Kapha). Adding milk to coffee helps modify the aggravation of Vata dosha.
Next you can start trying a combination of regular and decaffeinated coffee. Slowly increase the ratio of decaf until you have eliminated the caffeinated coffee. Or (even better) try mixing coffee with Raja’s Cup (an herbal coffee substitute). Slowly increase the amount of Raja’s Cup until you have eliminated the coffee altogether.
Raja’s Cup is preferred over decaffeinated coffee because decaffeinated coffee still contains acids that can aggravate Pitta, and because coffee in general is known to increase free radicals. Raja’s Cup, on the other hand, has been shown to be hundreds of times more effective against free radicals than Vitamin C or E.
One other note: Coffee has a bitter taste, which is one taste that American diets tend to lack. If you make sure that you include bitter foods (such as leafy greens like spinach, kale, etc.) in your diet or use spices with a bitter taste (such as turmeric, fenugreek, cinnamon and cumin), you may find that your craving for caffeine diminishes. Chocolate also has a bitter taste—and contains caffeine—so watch out that you don’t replace one with the other!
As I discussed in the blog post, “Summer to Fall Transitions: Avoiding Rashes and Hay Fever with Ayurveda”, many people find themselves dealing with both Pitta and Vata disturbances as summer turns into fall and the increase in Vata starts to “fan the fire” of Pitta. If you are drinking coffee, this is a very good time to cut down or make the change to a non-caffeinated drink. Traditionally in Ayurveda, the times of seasonal transitions are the most important times for purification treatments (Panchakarma) and Ayurvedic consultations.
For information on Ayurveda consultations and detoxification programs (Panchakarma) visit The Raj Ayurveda Health Spa website:
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