How to Quit Coffee

By Gabriel Espinoza, MD

May 05, 2022

Quit Coffee

Coffee represents the second most traded commodity globally before petroleum, showing its popularity and significance in our lives. In 2021, coffee consumption was estimated at 167.26 million 60 kg bags, translating to over 5 billion gallons of coffee consumed globally. However, coffee can be addicting due to its active component, caffeine, making it hard for some to stop drinking. If the prices of your morning latte are getting too pricey or if you want to quit your coffee habit, keep reading for more information.

More About Coffee

Coffee most likely originated in Ethiopia around the 15th century. Then, it started going westward to the Middle East and slowly spread to Europe, filling many of the coffee houses and playing a significant role in our culture. Coffee has many compounds that contribute to its flavor and antioxidant properties. Caffeine is the most widely known compound and the one on which most research has been done.

Caffeine, the most consumed substance worldwide, is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and soft drinks. It is found in more than 60 plant species. The average 8 oz cup of coffee contains around 85 mg of caffeine, with espresso containing less, about 40 mg. It is absorbed by the stomach and small intestine after 45 minutes of drinking your cup of coffee. The duration of effects of caffeine will vary among people depending on their age, medications, size, and liver function. But in healthy adults, the half-life of caffeine is 3–4 hours.

In the body, caffeine acts on adenosine receptors in the brain and the circulatory system. In the brain, it acts on sleep regulation, leading you to feel more awake while taking sleep away since it reduces the melatonin metabolite. In the cardiovascular system, it will speed up your heart rate.

Coffee and Your Health

In a systematic review and meta-analysis, researchers found that moderate coffee consumption of 3–5 cups per day had a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart failure, stroke, and heart disease. On the other hand, heavy coffee consumption of more than 6 cups per day did not have a higher nor a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

In regards to caffeine, drinking more than 6 cups of coffee may increase the risk of developing a faster heart rate, and for those who have been diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmias, it would be wise to avoid excess coffee and consult with your physician if you are drinking excess coffee.

Coffee also has other health benefits against developing metabolic syndromes like type 2 diabetes. In a meta-analysis, the research found that those with moderate coffee consumption had lower overall blood glucose levels. These studies did have some heterogeneity and may be due to some coffee drinkers taking coffee with cream, sugar, and other coffee creamers. It is still unclear how coffee provides these benefits, but it is pivotal to drink unsweetened black coffee if you want to maximize glucose control. Even drinking decaf coffee has been shown to help modulate blood glucose levels.

Other coffee health benefits include neuroprotective benefits, including increased alertness and attention while helping reduce anxiety and improve mood. It is a delicate balance between the amount of coffee that needs to be consumed to get these benefits since anything greater than 6 cups may cause more anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. Other neuroprotective benefits from coffee include having a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s.

Side Effects of Quitting Coffee

Coffee can be addicting since caffeine, the substance that leads to alertness is addicting. Caffeine is the most used stimulant since it is cheap and easily available. Your brain receptors become dependent on this molecule to function if you drink coffee daily. Without your morning cup of coffee, many may experience withdrawal symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea, vomiting

The first symptom the majority of people will experience if they miss their morning cup of coffee is a headache, which usually starts within 12–24 hours after your last coffee. Most withdrawal symptoms peak within two days and may last for up to 9 days. If you consume even one cup of coffee per day, you may experience these symptoms if you want to stop drinking coffee. Avoiding these symptoms keeps many wanting to continue drinking coffee, as these symptoms can be uncomfortable for many, especially with busy lives.

Breaking the Cycle

There are two ways of breaking the coffee addiction cycle: slowly tapering your coffee consumption or quitting cold turkey. For many, slowly tapering your coffee consumption will be the most comfortable and lead to better results. Weaning about 10–30 mg of caffeine every three days, about one-quarter of a cup less of coffee, until achieving zero daily caffeine usually carries out the weaning process. By doing this method, you may experience less severe forms of caffeine withdrawal symptoms. Depending on how many cups of coffee your drink per day, you will need to adjust your taper accordingly, leading to a longer weaning timeline. Some individuals may still experience mild headaches, but these can be treated with over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or NSAIDs like ibuprofen (Advil® or Motrin®), or naproxen (Aleve®).

The other method of breaking your coffee cycle is by quitting cold turkey, simply stopping all at once. This method will be the fastest but will not be easy, and for some, it may be too huge of a shock to the system and may be counterproductive depending on the amount of coffee consumption.

Some may prefer to drink decaffeinated coffee to help treat a type of placebo effect, but even decaffeinated coffee still contains a minimal amount of caffeine. If this is the method you choose, ensure that you prepare in advance and select a time that you are free or not as busy and can take more time for yourself. You may need to take over-the-counter pain medication, prepare your meals, have plenty of water and fluids, talk to family members about this change so that they may understand any changes in your mood or irritability, and speak with your workplace to discuss any changes in your productivity.

Benefits of Quitting Coffee

One of the biggest benefits of quitting coffee is financial savings. With droughts affecting many of the countries where coffee is grown, your coffee cup will certainly be pricier in the next few years. You could save nearly $30 per week, or $1,560 per year, by quitting coffee.

You will also have better sleep by quitting coffee. Since caffeine prevents your brain from producing the signaling molecules that tell your body it is time to sleep, you may start to experience a night of more restful sleep after you quit coffee. Even if you do not plan to quit caffeine and stop your consumption before noon, you may experience much restful sleep.

You may also experience a better mood since you may not feel dependent on the first cup of coffee to get your day started. Drinking excess coffee may also increase anxiety levels, so stopping your coffee consumption may help you feel calmer throughout the day. Finally, think about the time saved in the morning and the convenience of not having to think about making your morning coffee or stopping at the Café drive-through.

Alternatives to Coffee

If you are not ready to completely stop coffee or quit caffeine, some alternatives will give you lower amounts of caffeine without causing withdrawal symptoms or affecting your mood or productivity. Black or Green Tea are great alternatives to coffee. Black tea will have more caffeine than Green, with 47 mg and 28 mg of caffeine, respectively.

Tea possesses many antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, making it a great beverage for preventing chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Several research studies have shown that tea has many active antioxidant properties that are protective against many chronic conditions and diseases.

Another alternative to coffee is the South American plant, Yerba Mate. The plant has primarily grown in northern Argentine, Paraguay, Uruguay, and southern Brazil. Its consumption has been growing in popularity in North America and Europe. A cup of Yerba Mate tea contains about 70 mg of caffeine, less than a cup of coffee. But one of the benefits of drinking Yerba Mate is that the leaves can be infused repeatedly, allowing you to get more of the active components and caffeine in the plant.

The consumption of Yerba Mate has been shown to have positive health effects like weight loss and providing the body with healthy fatty acids, which may help lower cholesterol. The plant has also been shown to provide many anti-inflammatory properties and, vitamins like C, E, and minerals like selenium and zinc.

Coffee has many benefits, but if you feel like it is time for a change, consider switching to an alternative caffeinated drink that provides many of the health benefits of coffee, like tea or Yerba Mate. If you feel ready to break the cycle of caffeine addiction and live free of depending on a mood-altering substance, remember to choose a plan that works for you and communicate with family, school, or workplace since others may also witness the changes you may experience way before you may start noticing them. There are many choices to be productive and lead a busy life. With a healthy diet and balanced lifestyle, you will live a long and healthy life.

Gabriel Espinoza, MD has experience in caring for patients in both primary care and emergency settings. Some of the topics he has focused on during his medical career include various areas in public health, pediatrics, and wellness. He has co-authored a chapter on the utility of point of care ultrasound in the diagnoses of various eye conditions. The content written by Dr. Espinoza is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

References:

  1. https://www.ico.org/
  2. https://www.thieme-connect.com/products/ejournals/html/10.1055/s-0043-115007
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6292246/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945962/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8166542/
  6. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/coffee/
  7. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/Press_releases/2004/09_29_04.html
  8. https://www.caffeineinformer.com/my-caffeine-detox
  9. https://www.caffeineinformer.com/benefits-quitting-caffeine
  10. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20049372
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92768/
  12. http://www.aaem.pl/pdf-119994-52236?filename=Health%20properties%20of.pdf
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