Coffee is one of the world's most beloved beverages. It has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including improving energy, enhancing cognitive function, supporting liver and heart health, and helping manage weight. However, like many things, the effects of coffee are not so black and white. While coffee does indeed have many health benefits, it can also have many adverse health effects.
Coffee contains caffeine, which stimulates cortisol production. Cortisol is "the stress hormone" released when the body is under any stress. This stress response creates many physiological changes in the body. For example, when cortisol is released, blood pressure rises, muscles constrict, digestion is inhibited, heart rate increases, and the rate of breath increases.
All of these changes are a function of our sympathetic nervous system, which governs our "fight or flight" response. The changes affected by the sympathetic nervous system help give you an energy boost and make you more focused and alert so you can handle whatever stressful situation you are facing.
This is great for productivity or escaping danger but not great for your overall health and well-being. We all know that stress can negatively affect physical and psychological health. Chronic stress is considered the leading cause of the six major illnesses, including heart disease, which is the world's number one cause of death.
Occasional stress is natural and has little effect on our health. Chronic stress, however, is a different story. Chronic stress occurs when our stress response is frequently and continuously activated. This causes the physiological changes mentioned above to persist for long periods. As a result, consistently elevated blood pressure, stress hormones, and heart rate can have negative consequences. For example, it can increase your risk of hypertension and heart disease.
Caffeine forces your body into a stress response. That is how you get that quick boost of energy. In addition, the chemical stimulates cortisol production, triggering all of those energy-boosting effects. These effects, however, were intended to help you deal with the occasional stressful situation. They are not meant to be a daily occurrence. But this is what has become such a widespread practice in our culture.
Not only does caffeine have the adverse side effects of forcing your body into a stress response, but caffeine is highly addictive. Caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system. Regular use of this stimulant can cause physical and psychological dependence, making it difficult to go a day without that morning cup of joe.
Of course, because of the effects that caffeine has, it doesn't tend to disrupt your physical, social, or economic health the way that many other addictive drugs do. Still, it can impact your health and become a difficult habit to break once a dependency has formed.
Not only is there the psychological challenge of giving up a coffee habit, but coffee can cause physical detox symptoms for long-time users that stop consuming it. Of course, these are mild compared to the detoxification symptoms of other more intense drugs. Still, coffee detox symptoms can be pretty uncomfortable.
They significantly contrast with the uplifting, energetic feeling one feels after drinking coffee and are usually somewhat debilitating for a couple of days. However, this short detox period is usually just long enough for people to go back to coffee to make the symptoms disappear.
Some of the common withdrawal symptoms of coffee detox include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Depressed mood
Thankfully, these symptoms only last a few days. Even if these days are uncomfortable, a few days are nowhere near compared to other street drugs or alcohol. For this reason, most experts do not consider caffeine dependence to be an addiction.
Still, this largely depends on how we define "addiction." For example, suppose we define addiction as a physical dependency on a substance that causes severe and long-lasting withdrawal symptoms upon quitting. In that case, no coffee or caffeine is not an addictive substance.
Let's look at addiction as any habit or substance we consistently repeat and have difficulty breaking. Coffee can undoubtedly be an addictive substance. With this definition, so can many other things, of course. Still, many of our behavioral habits and addictions do not have any component of physical withdrawals and detox symptoms like coffee do.
So, caffeine falls somewhere in between these two definitions. It is not a seriously addictive drug, but it can quickly become an addictive habit because of the chemical effect on the body, and it does cause some mild withdrawal symptoms for frequent users.
How to Detox from Coffee
So, how do you detox from coffee? How do you overcome those few uncomfortable days and let go of the long-term habit and dependency on this substance? Below, we'll discuss some helpful tips to help you detox from coffee.
1. Remember Your "Why."
The most important thing for helping you detox from coffee is to have a strong reason why you want to stop and to keep that reason in mind whenever temptation arises. For example, do you want to give up your coffee habit? Why do you want to give up your coffee habit? Is it for your health? So, you can be healthier for yourself and your family? Is it because you don't want to have a dependency on anything? Whatever your reason, make it clear and make it emotionally connected to you. When the emotion behind your why is strong, it will give you the resolve to stay committed when the process feels challenging.
2. Find A Healthy Coffee Replacement
When giving up a habit of any kind, we create a void in our lives—a space where that special something once was. Filling this space with something else can help make the process easier. This can be anything. The most practical thing is to find a tea or warm beverage you can enjoy that doesn't have the same health effects as coffee.
Dandelion and chicory root tea are common coffee replacements, as are certain mushroom teas like chaga or reishi mushroom. These herbs all have very positive health effects as well for most people.
Some people replace coffee with green tea. While this might work for some people's goals, there are some things to be aware of. First, green tea and any teas made from the Camellia sinensis plant (including black tea and white tea) contain caffeine. Thus, they can also be habit-forming and may interfere with your coffee detox. That being said, some people find it helpful to switch to green tea to get a mild caffeine boost while getting off coffee. This may help them transition from coffee or caffeine as they move on to another replacement.
One of the benefits of green tea, however, is that it also contains an amino acid called L-theanine. This amino acid helps protect the body from some of the damaging effects of cortisol. So, while caffeine stimulates cortisol production, L-theanine in green tea mitigates some of these effects and promotes more relaxed energy than the fidgety stimulating energy that coffee can promote.
Cacao is also a common replacement for coffee, but like green tea and coffee, cacao contains small amounts of caffeine. This is important to note if you are detoxing from coffee, as many people are unaware that cacao contains caffeine.
3. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is practicing paying attention to the present moment and observing it without judgment. Whether we are aware of it or not, many of us are not very attentive to our lives in the present moment. We get so caught up in our goals, plans, ideas, daydreams, and other thoughts that we overlook the moment and aren't very in touch with what we are doing.
Mindfulness is a practice of returning to the present moment activity whenever our mind wanders and trying to sustain this attention without getting distracted. This helps overcome addictions of various kinds and works in several ways.
First, Mindfulness creates a space of conscious attention that allows us not to be so driven by impulsive drives. Author Viktor Frankl once said, "between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose." Mindfulness makes us more aware of that space and helps us be mindful of our drives, impulses, and thoughts without them having so much power over us. With this space, we can choose how we want to act instead of working purely out of habit or impulse.
Secondly, Mindfulness helps us feel more connected to life. So many addictive habits are driven by a desire to feel more connected. When we are present, we can touch the joys that are available to us in the present moment. This can help us not seek something else to stimulate us but instead allows us to have a more positive experience by changing our focus and attitude. We feel like we don't need anything more but can enjoy this moment just as it is.
Lastly, this present-moment awareness helps us deal with whatever challenges we face. A big focus of mindfulness practice is accepting the present moment and whatever it contains. So, during our coffee detox, when we feel tired, we can acknowledge and accept that we are tired without feeling like we need to change or fix our tiredness. This can be very helpful for resisting that urge to go back to coffee to escape the temporary uncomfortable feeling.
4. Supplement with Adaptogenic Herbs
Adaptogenic herbs are herbs that help your body better adapt to stress. They work by regulating a healthy balance in major glands associated with the stress response, such as the hypothalamic, pituitary, and adrenal glands.
Because caffeine causes cortisol production, you may deplete your cortisol reserves, leading to adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands are the glands that produce cortisol, among many other hormones. Adaptogenic herbs support adrenal health so that they can help with the recovery from cortisol depletion as well. Adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha have energy-enhancing properties without relying on caffeine.
Adaptogenic teas make a good coffee detox drink because they will help support your body during its coffee withdrawal.
5. Make Time for Rest and Recovery
Take time for yourself to rest and recover when you undergo a coffee detox. It only takes a few days for symptoms to pass. It is best to plan for this and choose days you don't have much to do. Weekends are a great time to undergo a coffee detox. Expect that you may feel tired, but try to make the most of your day. With tools like Mindfulness and adaptogenic herbs, you don't have to let the temporary withdrawal symptoms get to you. You can be positive and joyful amid some minor discomfort.
How Long Does It Take to Detox from Coffee?
The exact time of how long to detox from coffee depends on how much of a dependency there is and if you go back and forth between starting and stopping drinking coffee. In general, it takes a day or two for coffee withdrawal symptoms to pass.
This is why it is recommended to undergo your coffee detox when you know you have a couple of days to rest and don't have many responsibilities to take care of. It is also helpful to have your coffee replacement drink handy, so you can start to replace your coffee habit with this new beverage.
Every time you crave that cup of coffee, reach for the replacement coffee drink. Of course, it won't be the same as coffee, but you can learn to appreciate and enjoy this new beverage in time.
Whether you want to give up coffee entirely or just cut back is up to you. Either way, it is always a good decision to consider our relationship with substances and to foster healthy relationships that don't result in dependencies.