Updated: Feb 20, 2020
I’ve been on a major matcha kick since cutting coffee again a few of weeks ago (for the millionth time)...
I learned recently that caffeine has an average half life of 5-30 hours, depending on various factors including the drinker’s age, liver function, and medications such as birth control. Half life is the amount of time that it takes for *one half* of the caffeine to be processed out of your system. That means that if you drank a cup of coffee this morning, HALF of the caffeine could still be circulating in your system tomorrow morning. It also means that even if you only drink coffee in the morning, you still go to bed with at least a third of that caffeine still in your system. That affects your sleep, so you wake up feeling groggy and you need more caffeine...and the cycle is born. . Short of cutting out coffee, there are a few simple things we can do to support our liver and adrenal functions, to help balance out the side effects of coffee:
Mushrooms Mushrooms. Adaptogenic mushrooms like cordyceps and lion's mane are mood and energy-boosting, without the caffeine, or the adrenal depletion. They actually support your adrenal function. They can be a wonderful coffee substitute, or supplement. I always recommend them to patients trying to reduce their caffeine intake. Four Sigmatic is doing a great job of popularizing this, with high-quality, convenient products. I also love For Villagers' Didn’t It Rain Herbal Coffee substitute. Sun Potion makes gorgeous wildcrafted herbals. Mountain Rose Herbs makes accessible, high quality products as well.
Coffee Substitutes (that are actually good)
DandyBlend is a natural beverage powder made from dandelion root and other herbs. It has a nice, round, bitter coffee-like flavor, so it can be enjoyed along, or can be mixed in to coffee as a way to cut your coffee but still enjoy a good big cup. Dandelion root is an herb that helps support liver detox and function, so that it can process caffeine more efficiently. I find it noticeably levels the high of coffee, and helps reduce the crash.
Why are you reaching for coffee in the first place? Most importantly, it is key to address the root issue of your fatigue. So many of us are working too hard, sleeping too little, and generally burning the candle at both ends. Caffeine borrows from your future energy to power you in the moment. It’s like using your savings for your weekly expenses. So what in your lifestyle can be adjusted to bring more energy in? The obvious ones are more sleep, less work, better nutrition, nourishing exercise, and restorative rest.
Herbal Tonics For some, low energy may have it’s root in depleted reserves. For these people, herbal tonics such as the mushrooms mentioned above eg. cordyceps, ginseng, astragalus root can be helpful. Consult with your herbalist for a custom prescription that balances out the specifics of your constitution. Most importantly, it’s necessary to modify your lifestyle from one that is draining to one that is replenishing. (Imagine that!) Diet is essential - in short, bone broth is mana. Move your Qi For others, low energy can be a result of constraint. Meaning it’s not that you don’t have enough energy, it’s that your energy is all tied up. In a word, stress. If you feel better after exercising, this is you. The problem then, is that caffeine ramps up your fight/flight (sympathetic) nervous system. So as much as you may feel like you’re more productive, which makes you think you’re reducing your stress, you’re actually creating more stress, tension and constraint in your body - counterproductive! For these people, it’s not about increasing energy. It’s about unbridling what’s already there. Exercise, deep breathing, acupuncture are great ways to get your Qi moving to smooth out and support your energy levels and focus.
To be clear, coffee isn’t inherently bad or good. With all things diet, it’s easy to pigeonhole things, but it’s all about how what we consume interacts with the specifics of our individual constitutional type.
For me, coffee is super fun, lifts my mood and makes me feel like a superhero (with a worth-it edge of anxiety), but if I drink it too many days in a row, it gives me achy joints and muscles, and crashing energy - not worth it. It’s always about knowing ourselves and learning to listen to our bodies. And learning how we can balance out our choices when we choose not to. 😇 Harmonize, don't perfect.