I have been drinking coffee since I was 8 years old. Call it child abuse or call the influence of my European roots, either way the beautiful caramel-roasted flavour and aroma has become a full blown addiction for me. It's an addiction that I have come to peace with really and have accepted as one of my few vices when it comes to healthy eating. Regardless of my peace, however, every year around this time I kick the habit in honour of a 4-6 week cleanse.
It always seems like a good idea .. a good idea that I almost get excited about. Then, around day 3, reality hits, cravings are through the roof, the coffee headache is at its most intense and I am ready to kill someone!
Now, coffee is an interesting little substance. 81% of Canadians drink coffee, 63% of Canadians over the age of 18 drink coffee on a daily basis, versus Americans where only 49% of people in the US drink coffee on a daily basis. The highest provincial consumption is in Quebec at 70% (oh, the French)!
So what's the deal with coffee then? Is it good or bad? Like anything, moderate consumption (2-3 cups of brewed coffee per day) is not going to put you at risk for any really awful pathology and may assist in optimizing short term memory. Dr. Koppelstatter MD, PhD (Medical University Innsbruck, Austria, 2005) conducted a study using fMRI scans after subjects consumed 100mg of caffeine through coffee (2 cups). When asked to perform exercises that required short term memory skills, subjects on coffee performed better and had noticeably improved short term memory.
Another study conducted in France by Karen Richie PhD (French Institute for Health and Medical Research, Montpellier, 2007), found that women over the age of 65 who consumed moderate amounts of coffee (3 cups of coffee/day) had less decline over time on tests of memory than women who drank one cup of coffee or less.
I find it especially interesting that many studies in support of coffee consumption are actually based out of Europe!
On the less beneficial side, coffee can increase your blood pressure, increase your heart rate, can cause sleep disturbance, can aggravate gastric acid reflux conditions (GERD) and can predispose susceptible individuals to migraine headaches. Caffeine also causes a cortisol surge, however, with regular consumption (or in my case, addiction), the surge is lessened (please see this study). Increased cortisol, due to stress as well as coffee consumption, is part of the reason for the increased blood pressure and increased pulse rate associated with a cup of java (anyone that does not drink coffee regularly and has a shot of expresso can tell you about this)! Cortisol in excess has been also associated with increased abdominal fat retention. This, of course, leads to increased pressure on the heart and visceral organs .. that isn't too good and in the long term, can be a contributing factor to heart disease. However, since the cortisol surge is lessened with regular consumption, if you are going to consume coffee, you might as well do it daily! :)
So here I am, writing this blog, drinking some matcha green tea (and trying to be happy about it) and wondering why I have a headache that resembles someone taking an axe to my cranium! A little digging revealed that caffeine/coffee increases cerebral blood flow velocity (that is, the rate at which blood travels through the brain). Yet another study found that people experiencing caffeine withdrawal had a decreased cerebral blood flow velocity .. which, we can extrapolate, less O2 (oxygen) getting to the brain. No wonder I'm having difficulty putting sentences together!
So what can I do about it - and what can all the people out there on a spring cleanse do about their caffeine withdrawal symptoms? First, find a replacement: green tea and matcha green tea are good options: they are high in antioxidants and have just enough caffeine to curb the headache a little. Second, incorporate activities that will increase the cerebral blood flow velocity. These means move! Exercise will increase blood flow - just don't jump around too much as this will likely aggravate your headache!! Third, be patient!! The withdrawal doesn't usually last more than a few days. Forth, if you are absolutely dying, have 1/4 cup of black tea or coffee just to take the edge of your discomfort and last, but definitely not least, warn everyone around you that they are at risk in your presence and really, really try not to kill anyone!