To Your Health

I seem to be getting more and more depressed and lethargic. I notice that it now takes three cups of coffee in the morning to get me going and three to four more cups during the day to stay alert enough to manage a day's work. I am only 31, and I don't see why I should feel this way. I already take a good multivitamin/mineral. Is there more I should do?

Q. I seem to be getting more and more depressed and lethargic. I notice that it now takes three cups of coffee in the morning to get me going and three to four more cups during the day to stay alert enough to manage a day's work. I am only 31, and I don't see why I should feel this way. I already take a good multivitamin/mineral. Is there more I should do?

A. Caffeine is the most widely used psychotropic drug in America and may soon hold that title in the rest of the world. Most of the caffeine consumed in America comes from coffee, but tea and soft drinks contribute about 25%. A lot of people drink caffeine beverages simply out of habit, not really aware that the common symptoms of caffeine overdose include fatigue, tension, feeling blue, and worrying. Most people relate excess caffeine consumption to a rapid heart rate or feeling "wired," so the increased fatigue and depression creates a vicious cycle of thinking that more caffeine is needed to improve energy and get out of a blue funk. The amount you use, 700-1,000 mg per day, is enough to significantly increase anxiety and depression as measured by standard psychiatric tests.

While infrequent consumption of small amounts of caffeine is found to quicken reaction time, increase alertness, and improve mood, the effect of consistent caffeine consumption tends to be negative. Probably the main reason for continuing to consume caffeine is "withdrawal relief." During caffeine withdrawal there is an increased incidence of headache, drowsiness, fatigue, and carelessness, all of which disappear as soon as caffeine is used. These symptoms are detectable after overnight caffeine abstinence, so this is a daily experience for regular caffeine users. Caffeine withdrawal over a weekend may be even worse, provoking more severe symptoms of fatigue and headache. Along with reduced sleep quality and increased blood pressure, the cost of regular caffeine use quickly becomes too high. There is even a strong correlation of increased incidence of suicide among women who consume more than four cups of coffee per day.

Another more subtle reason for reducing caffeine relates to hormones. High intake of caffeine stimulates the liver to increase the activity of certain enzymes that destroy caffeine but can also destroy some important hormones. As we grow older, the body's ability to compensate for this increased destruction through increased production begins to falter, and so we tend to age prematurely.

There are basically two ways to get off caffeine: cold turkey or by gradual tapering off. The withdrawal symptoms from the cold turkey method can be quite uncomfortable, but some people look at it as a learning experience. If you suffer from going off caffeine, you may be less likely to relapse. You need to stop all caffeine sources (coffee, tea, cola, chocolate), not just your favorite one, and you should be prepared for at least two days, and possibly four to five days, of misery.

If you would rather taper off, one method is to cut your caffeine intake in half every week until you are consuming so little that the final drop to zero is painless. Starting with eight cups of coffee per day, you would have a week of four cups per day (best spread out to one cup four times a day), then two cups per day for another week, and so on until you have only about 1/4 cup per day and can probably comfortably quit. This takes six weeks or so, but you should not have the typical caffeine withdrawal headache or other annoyances.

Three nutrients to consider that may aid in lowering your desire for caffeine, in addition to your multivitamin/mineral, are vitamin C, L-glutamine, and L-tyrosine. Only vitamin C is considered an essential nutrient, but the two amino acids have been clinically useful in aiding addicts to get off hard drugs and for some people these help to get off coffee. Use about 1,000 mg of each to start, but you can double the amounts if you still have trouble staying off caffeine.

You may appear to be a little anti-social when your friends invite you to join them in a coffee klatch and you resolutely drink your club soda or herbal tea, but there are dividends.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle