I was born in Naples “some time ago” and grew up surrounded by the poetic sound of neapolitan music, passionate conversations amongst locals and families, and the earthy and rich aroma of espresso coffee.
The sound of speedy mopeds and cars didn’t go unnoticed, of course, but was just part of life - Naples is a beautiful, ancient city, with old narrow streets full of history and a stunning coastline, but it’s also renowned by many for its chaotic traffic. Like many cities, this rush is part of its historical heritage, but also something often associated with the fast pace of life found in built-up areas. Is there a trigger to this lifestyle? Could caffeine be part of it?
As the saying goes: Coffee, the ‘kick start’ of the day…
Caffeine is a known stimulant with almost instant effects on mind and body, however it only provides a short-term boost. This is why, in our frantic and hectic life, caffeine is the most pleasant yet abused ‘drug’.
Caffeine is an alkaloid with potent effects. It is not only found in coffee, but in different percentages also in tea (camellia sinensis), cocoa and chocolate, guarana, Cola and some commercial drinks unfortunately abused by many youngsters. It is quite a powerful drug that works similarly to humans’ natural stress response, stimulating our heart, our respiratory system, adrenals and the central nervous system.
Caffeine speeds up blood circulation and raises blood pressure, increases the acidity in your stomach, has diuretic effects, and stimulates the cortex of your brain, intensifying its mental activity by blocking the adenosine receptors and freeing 'exciting' neurotransmitters like dopamine and glutamate. This reduces tiredness and makes you feel more alert – who wouldn’t want this?
In fact, once the caffeine concentration fades out, the need to get more increases, so you need another coffee or tea to feel on the high again. In the long run, this yo-yo swing has the opposite effect: it wears out the body and mind.
Like all good things in life, it's all about moderation.
In this light we could consider coffee not just a drink or a pleasurable habit, but a proper medicine to be taken as and when. It isn’t always easy to discern, hence it is important to be mindful of both pleasure and side effects.
Anything we put into our bodies will have an effect on them, and coffee is no different. Whilst boosting us up, excessive use of caffeine often results in heart palpitations, trembling hands, insomnia, irritability, stress of the adrenals and the need for more. It's like any other drug addiction.
The other side of the coin…
An area that has been well-considered in recent years is the impact of excess coffee on the skin. Coffee’s diuretic effect reduces the amount of water in the system and, if not adequately replaced, in the long run can of course lead to dehydration. This could indeed contribute to the premature ageing of the skin and formation of wrinkles.
On the other hand, coffee (especially green coffee) really shines in its high content of antioxidants and, in skincare products helps skin stay toned, elastic and young-looking. Green coffee is used in face masks with excellent results including gentle exfoliation.
So, where does the balance fall between the negative effects of caffeine, and the positive effects of its antioxidants?
To get the most from your coffee, go for the organic and lighter roasts (sometimes labelled grades 1-2), and to keep your caffeine levels safe - don’t drink more than two cups a day. This will also encourage your system to react to the daily challenges by digging out its own energy rather than relying on external inputs. I have always suggested to my patients to consider coffee as an 'indulgent' medicine to be only assumed when needed.
To help the skin, look up for green coffee in the ingredients list (organic by all means).
If you want to give up caffeine, do it the right way
For those who wants to give up on caffeine or periodically 'detox' the system, my first piece of advice is to come off gradually - just like with any other drug, cutting it too quickly can have a withdrawal effects and trigger headaches, irritability, lack of concentration, and fatigue due to a sudden lack of the stimulants that the body is used to.
Choose a time when you know you won't be under pressure or stress. Start with reducing caffeine gradually over seven days and replace it, if needed, with some organic light tea or diluted coffee until there are no more side effects from lack of caffeine. Aside from that, drink more water than usual, invent in some fresh veg/fruit juices, exercise a bit more in the open air, and practice breathing exercises to get extra oxygen in.
A good replacement for caffeine is Siberian ginseng (Eleuterococcus), an adaptogenic tincture and can help the body to prevent headaches and bear the change better.
Combine this with uplifting rosemary or mint tea – I found these teas excellent coffee substitutes. Melissa (lemon balm) tincture or tea will help reduce the irritability and anxiety. Supplements such as magnesium (often depleted by caffeine) will balance your mood swings and relax muscle tension.
More articles by Dr Spiezia here.