Why stim­u­lants are not your friends

Rose Costello looks at stim­u­lants in this week’s Lazy Guide to Get­ting Healthy

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Lifestyle - Rose Costello is a jour­nal­ist, fit­ness in­struc­tor and health coach, who works with peo­ple on a one-to-one ba­sis and in groups to help them to lose weight and get healthy. See zest4life.com

Stim­u­lants can be such fun. They make you feel high, ex­cited and full of the joys of life – and that’s just the le­gal ones. Don’t be fooled though, they are not your friend. Cof­fee, tea, sugar and en­ergy drinks are fren­e­mies: they push and push un­til you are ex­hausted. Then they push you some more. You don’t need them. They just make you feel bad.

If you feel you need cof­fee or tea in the morn­ing to face the day, that’s a pretty good sign you have some level of ad­dic­tion. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, “Much of the pos­i­tive mood ef­fect ex­pe­ri­enced with con­sump­tion of caf­feine in the morn­ing . . . is due to the sup­pres­sion of low-grade with­drawal symp­toms.”

Stim­u­lants are be­lieved to in­crease the stress hor­mones cor­ti­sol and adren­a­line. A re­port from Brown Univer­sity says caf­feine causes in­creased neu­ron fir­ing in the brain, which is per­ceived as an emer­gency, caus­ing the re­lease of adren­a­line.

This up­sets your blood sugar bal­ance so you go from high to low, from a burst of en­ergy to a slump. And the more you have, the more you feel you need it.

Imag­ine if I said you can­not have any cof­fee, tea or sugar for a day. Noth­ing. Would you be happy? Or does that sound like a mild form of tor­ture?

Caf­feine is a psy­choac­tive drug, in other words it works on your mind. Too much, which can be just four cups a day, can lead to in­som­nia, ner­vous­ness, rest­less­ness, headaches and heart pal­pi­ta­tions, ac­cord­ing to the Mayo Clinic.

Worse still, when cof­fee is com­bined with a sug­ary snack such as a crois­sant, your blood sugar gets an ex­tra kick, fol­lowed by a sharper fall. This leaves you feel­ing low, hun­gry and crav­ing an­other boost.

Busi­ness coach and ac­tor John Lovett says that un­der­stand­ing the ef­fect helped him to change. “Know­ing why it was im­por­tant to cut down helped me to break the cof­fee habit. I used to have at least four cups a day and with sugar. Now I have no more than two.”

He feels the ben­e­fit: “I’ve got more en­ergy and it’s stopped my sugar crav­ing.”

Cut­ting down

So what’s the lazy way to get off the merry-go-round without end­ing up dizzy? For a week, jot down each day any bad stuff you have: cof­fee, choco­late, cake, en­ergy drinks. Then cut down slowly. Other­wise you will get with­drawal symp­toms such as headaches, ir­ri­tabil­ity and lethargy.

Wean your­self off by drink­ing more wa­ter and mak­ing clever sub­sti­tu­tions. Have de­caf­feinated tea or cof­fee. Try red­bush herbal tea in­stead of stan­dard tea. (Most su­per­mar­kets and health food shops stock it.) The ob­ject is to get down to one or two cups of tea or cof­fee a day.

Caf­feine is found not just in cof­fee, but also in tea, en­ergy drinks, some soft drinks and some med­i­ca­tions. There’s even a lit­tle in choco­late, but you won’t find that on the la­bel. And it all adds up.


Too much caf­feine can lead to in­som­nia, ner­vous­ness, rest­less­ness, headaches and heart pal­pi­ta­tions.

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