With a coffee shop on virtually every block, and "a grande iced triple-shot, extra-whipped skim mocha" being a normal way to ask for an afternoon drink, it's not always easy to remember what it was that we drank before the mass-caffeination of America. With a couple of cups of java just to get going in the morning and a double espresso to concentrate better in the afternoon, coffee is becoming synonymous with energy. But is it good energy?
Symptoms of caffeine overuse include depression, anxiety, restlessness, stomach upsets, nausea and vomiting. Moderate to heavy coffee consumption may even lead to heart disease. Addiction to sugary coffee drinks or sweet colas may also lead to extreme mood swings or even diabetes.
Coffee may also cause an increase of stress hormones, according to Stephen Cherniske, author of "Caffeine Blues." Everytime we drink coffee, the adrenal gland produces adrenaline, the same thing that happens when we are afraid or angry. After a prolonged period of excessive caffeine consumption, the adrenal gland doesn't have any more adrenaline to produce. This leads to chronic fatigue, constant exhaustion and susceptibility to disease. Dr. James D. Lane, who studied caffeine for 15 years, found that stress hormones produced by a cup of coffee did not leave the body of the participant for 24 hours after consumption.
"If your eating is imbalanced, you are going to require another stimulant, following your cup of coffee, to get your adrenaline back, New York-based Dr. Craig Fishel says. Most people reach for a cookie or a piece of chocolate after their skim latte precisely for this reason.
Caffeine is a substance found naturally in the leaves, seeds, fruits and nuts of more than 60 different plants, and is added to food and many over-the-counter medicines. It is absorbed and distributed very quickly into the body; it passes directly into the central nervous system or the brain. Often combined with vast amounts of sugar in beverages, caffeine can be hard to quit for some.
Eighty-five percent of all Americans drink coffee on a daily basis, according to the Duke University Medical Center -- maybe whether they want to or not. "Caffeine is similar to nicotine in its addictive properties," Feishel says.
But caffeine can be kicked.
"The best way to quit caffeine is to replace half of your morning beverage with a decaffeinated alternative, gradually decreasing the caffeinated portion," Fishel says.
Sometimes quitting coffee brings quite unexpected results, like taste buds becoming more sensitive after quitting coffee. Discovering a whole world of herbal teas and other delicious beverages, instead of just mechanically gulping coffee could be another unexpected benefit.
Since everyone has a different tolerance level to caffeine, the key is knowing where to draw the line and how to get that New York-energy buzz while staying healthy, physically and emotionally.
Here are some ideas to help beat the cuppajoe blues.
Try natural supplements with anti-inflammatory properties to decrease the risk of heart disease: turmeric, an herb used as a spice in many Indian dishes, has a compound called curcumin with strong anti-inflammatory properties; ginger root is a spice with many medicinal properties, including being an anti-inflammatory; omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in deepwater fish, have been shown to reduce inflammation.
Coffee alternatives in New York do exist. Try going to your local health food store, to try multiple varieties of herbal teas. You can also experiment with chicory root and barley drinks. As always, don't forget to be hydrated by drinking water.