by Susie Davidson

TAB Correspondent


"Double mocha latte?" "Cappuccino grande?"

Not me - I head for the water jug at Starbucks. Eight some-odd years ago, however, it was a different story. I'd be at the counter.

I can recall pulling into a gas station near Salt Lake City for 1/8 cup, just enough to alleviate the throbbing. Why? Hopefully, to attain better sleep, calmer nerves, and just to break free of the addiction.

Despite the fact that (those ubiquitous) most experts agree that under three cups daily is safe (indeed, state both Ichiro Kawachi and Meir Stampfer, M.D.'s at the Harvard Medical School, no studies have conclusively linked coffee to any significant health problems), some like me voluntarily opt to ditch the daily grind. Certainly, health-oriented organizations continue to link caffeine to increased blood pressure, heart disease, benign breast lumps, peptic ulcers and other maladies. The Center for Science in the Public Interest alleges increased incidence of miscarriage, osteoporosis, insomnia, anxiety, and infertility in coffee drinkers; caffeine, they claim, can also raise blood pressure temporarily, and should be avoided by people with heart rhythm disturbances. And just the jitters, insomnia, cyclic speeds and crashes - perhaps hassle or cost alone - spur many to bravely forego the boisterous bean.

But caffeine withdrawal, as they can surely attest, is no picnic. Blue Shield of CA notes that symptoms include headache, fatigue and lethargy. Houston's Methodist Health Care cites nausea and flulike symptoms. Nature's Sunshine Products lists irritability, impatience, anger, headache, occasional sleeplessness, upset stomach, heartburn and nausea as "minor" afflictions of the newly unwired.

Linda Burnett, Amy Hull and Laura Creedon are three such hardy, unjava'd souls. Linda, a West Roxbury realtor off coffee for two months, "still drinks a bit of tea," but says "when I smell coffee I remind myself of the 3 p.m. crashes, the peaks and valleys." Her withdrawal was not particularly difficult ("I maybe had a slight headache and took a Tylenol, or forgot about it"), largely, she feels, because of the acupuncture she sought for a sinus condition. "Acupuncture seemed to cut my cravings for coffee and sweets as well. It balanced me."

Amy Hull, Clinic Supervisor at the New England School of Acupuncture (34 Chestnut St., Watertown, 617-926-4271) explains. "Acupuncture can greatly help to alleviate the fatigue, anxiety, loss of mental clarity and insomnia (yes, insomnia) which accompany caffeine withdrawal." It does this, she says, "via a twofold strategy. First, it helps the body detox." (Acupuncture is often used to treat alcoholics and drug addicts.) "Then, it strengthens the body by increasing energy, or chi, in all of its systems."

"Acupuncture builds and then regulates the central nervous system," she continues, "because coffee, which artificially excites it, disrupts bodily rhythms. ("The world's most commonly used psychoactive substance," according to Kawachi, can certainly swing one every which way.) Hull mentions how anti-anxiety medications sometimes actually increase tension. "The boomerang effect of any drug, which shows how A does not always equal B in Western medicine," can be evened out, she says, through the noble needles.

Laura Creedon of Brookline (617-734-3187), who represents Northern Edge Milled Flaxseed and Fresh Wheat Germ, credits her products with helping she and others go brew-free. "They will support your body nutritionally, enabling it to repair and detoxify." Her whole brown rice product Restoral "replenishes the neurotransmitters in your brain which are depleted by drugs of any type." A Reiki practitioner, she further recommends indulging in "any form of energy work, which will support the person emotionally, helping to reduce cravings and stress."

Delving into the Western Hemisphere for further explication, Roger Downey and Thea Singer, in "Why coffee makes us sleepy" (May 18, 1990, Boston Phoenix) reveal that caffeine is a "xanthine" within the category of "purines", organic compounds composed of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen atoms. In xanthines, a pair of oxygen atoms is tightly bound to the purine ring elements. This configuration, by penetrating the blood-brain barrier, acts to stimulate the central nervous system as it interferes with neurotransmitters, brain and nerve chemicals which greatly affect both physical and emotional behavior (e.g., serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine are associated with depression and schizophrenia).

In the early 1980s, pharmacologists discovered that caffeine also blocks the compound adenosine from performing its synergistic function of balancing the effects of neurotransmitters as they fire from cell to cell. As caffeine binds to adenosine receptor sites, preventing their decelerating action, mood and physical activity in the imbiber rev into high gear. And, as with any bodily system which is thwarted into chaos, overproduction of adenosine then results as it struggles to correct itself. This excess adenosine will then cause a draggy and droopy feeling. (Also, as caffeine doesn’t bond to adenosine receptors tightly, it flushes quickly through the system.) More coffee to alleviate this drop? More inhibition of adenosine, and soon after, too much of it, as the cycle continues. (This also explains why you get a headache when abruptly withdrawing – Downey reports that, according to Quentin Regenstein, MD at Brigham and Women’s, "headaches, hot and cold sweats [and, understandably enough, consequential irritability – ed.] are a typical somatic response to the slew of excess adenosine receptors your body has to slough off.") Those who top off continually, to stave off such discomfort, wind up with a consistent coffee reserve, which keeps this biological imbalance in constant play. Who needs it?

Jason Landry, a manager at the 1369 Coffee House in Central Square, says some of his people don’t. He relates that he sees many coming in for "fancy decaf drinks such as double decaf cappuccinos", which tells him that "clearly, the caffeine has started to aggravate them, and they are showing that they can’t break the habit, or desire for the taste, completely." One woman, he says, "comes in every day for a split shot latte – one shot of decaf, and one of espresso. She used to get both shots of espresso and is obviously trying to cut down on the caffeine."

So, you’ve decided to blow off the brew. Where to begin? Well, don’t start by substituting other forms of caffeine. As the Center for Science in the Public Interest has pointed out, your innocuous bowl of Ben and Jerry’s nonfat coffee fudge frozen yogurt blasts off with a hefty 85 mg. per cup. Diet Coke and Pepsi? Along with the shady Nutrasweet, caramel color and potassium benzoate, a 12-oz. can has 47 mg. Tea? 40-50. Hershey’s Dark Chocolate bar? 31. Dannon coffee yogurt? 45. (The CSPI and the American Medical Association have both recently filed petitions with the Food and Drug Administration to require that the caffeine content of foods be printed on product labels. [The FDA did issue an advisory in 1981 about the health effects of caffeine in pregnant women].)

Now that summer’s here, resist the urge to suck down a tall iced coffee or tea. Cold, sweet concoctions, be they Frappuccinos or ice cream, seem to slide down the hatch all too easily when temps rise. Try fruit smoothies, seltzer water or plain old Poland Springs. Keep busy. Exercise. Indulge in summer’s luscious produce. Give your blender a whirl with myriad non-caffeined ingredients such as OJ, yogurt, or the high-powered add-ins popular at smoothie bars. At Jera’s Juices in Brookline (other stores in the Financial and the Hospital Districts), co-owner Peter Holland himself gave up coffee years ago, as have most of his customers. "We’re very busy in the afternoon," he says, "because they either don’t drink coffee, or have a juice drink to replace the second cup."

Holland’s products appear to be supreme substitutes indeed. "Ginseng", he states, "promotes energy and endurance. Chromium picolinate regulates blood sugar levels, which in turn speeds metabolism. Our energy pack (ginseng and protein powder) helps feed muscles and cells, fostering regeneration and self-repair."

"When you juice," he continues, "you condense, say, a pound of carrots into a 10 oz. glass. No one is going to eat a pound of carrots. You get all that nutrition with minimal digestive effort (1 unit of energy vs. 5 units for the raw food), and it’s in your bloodstream within 10 minutes, as opposed to an hour with the food." This speed, and the nutritional wallop, would seem to make a trip to Jera’s a pretty sensible alternative to Au Bon Pain.

But Holland has saved the best for last, his wheatgrass juice. "Organic winter wheat berries are sprouted for us by a North Shore farmer. When the sprouts are juiced, one ounce has the nutritional equivalency of over two pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables. It has 92 of the 102 minerals in existence. It satiates your brain’s food needs so that your appetite is naturally suppressed. The juice, both an energizer and detoxifier, immediately pulls toxins from the body, especially the liver, where they accumulate. And it contains 70% chlorophyll, which is a vital blood builder." Jera’s offers two wheatgrass-based drinks (which mask the let’s-say-unusual taste): the Chlorophyll Cocktail (mint, pineapple and wheatgrass juice) and the Big Dig (carrots, spinach, celery, parsley, beets, spirulina and wheatgrass juice).

Not everybody has the time to sprout wheat berries, but why not pop into a wrap-and-smoothie haunt daily, instead of Starbucks, varying your liquid fare? It’s an easy, cost-equivalent, delicious way to both satisfy your cravings for a sweet, cold, intensely flavored tall one and get your C’s (and Z’s, no doubt) in a quenching that won’t leave you jumpin’ and jivin’.

In colder months, hot, eminently sippable replacement drinks may help, but first off, nix the decaf. Herbal Dave (herbaldave.com) cautions that "solvents like methylene chloride are used to make decaffeinated coffee. These create a carbon/chloride bond in the body that is characteristic of many insecticides." Judyth and Robert Ullman, naturopathic and homeopathic physicians based in Edmonds, WA, suggest substituting the (admittedly un-espressolike in taste, they concede) "tasty toasted grain beverages such as Inka, Caffix and Postum, or herb teas." Herbal Dave proffers an "herbal beverage" of roasted barley, malt, chicory, rye and herbal flavorings. Bring on the cinnamon stick!

And at what pace should abstinence be undergone? David Rosenfield, M.D., of Houston's Methodist Hospital, suggests "decreasing intake by about 20 percent a week...over a four- to five-week period." Experts sound a reassuring tone to the addicted and fearful: the International Food Information Council Foundation of Washington D.C. calls withdrawal effects "temporary, and [they] can often be avoided if caffeine cessation is gradual." Peter Dews, M.D. at the Harvard Medical School, adds that "caffeine consumers do not demonstrate dependent, compulsive behavior, characteristic of dependency on drugs of abuse." John Carney of the Univ. of Kentucky echoes this, noting that just as rodents adjust to caffeine cessation within seven days, humans too can re-program themselves fairly quickly.

To bean or not to bean? That's your choice. But with some careful planning, and perhaps a few herbs, fruits, grains, footsteps and/or needles, wresting oneself from the coffee clutch can be an ultimately attainable goal.

See you at the water jug???



Placed on the U.S. FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe list in 1958, caffeine has actually been in the human diet for thousands of years. According to Judyth and Robert Ullman, legend holds that an Arabian shepherd noticed his goats pulling frolicking all-nighters after eating berries from the evergreen coffee plant (one of 63 caffeinated plants worldwide). Though the beans were initially deemed a health hazard and orthodox priests penalized partakers, they were soon used as money and consumed as food. Today, some 80% of Americans make their day with coffee - according to the Ullmans, 15 lbs. per person.


Nature's Sunshine's Caffeine Detox (www.sunshine-bodyworks.com/atoz/8727-8.htm) is a homeopathic formulation containing Chamomile (for: tension), Hyssop (stomach distress), St. Ignatius Bean (depression and anxiety), Nux Vomica (anger, coffee and alcohol addictions) and Thuja Officinalis (headache and addictions). True to the homeopathic philosophy which employs like to treat like, it also contains Coffea Cruda, which stimulates the production of defensive inner antibodies. (The Ullmans state that the oils in brewed coffee deactivate homeopathic remedies, another reason to quit for health-minded experimenters.)




Drs. Kawachi and Stampfer,

Thank you for contributing to this article - Susie Davidson