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Try This: Why You Need a Coffee Break and How to Do It ☕

So many people depend on caffeine to start their day—and let’s face it, get through it. An estimated 90% of Americans drink coffee, with even more riding a caffeine buzz in one way or another. Whether it’s polyphenol-rich green tea, coffee, or sugar-filled soda, energy drinks, or flavored coffees, there’s no denying that people love caffeine!

But if you suffer from migraines, fatigue, constipation, or hormonal issues, it could be an indication that something deeper is going on—and coffee could be masking it, making it harder to identify the root cause.

Nowhere is this more present than in those who suffer from a dysfunctional hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), the central feedback system in our bodies that determines how we respond to stress. So if we’re already stressed or burnt out, over-consuming caffeine can make matters worse by causing anxiety, heart palpitations, insomnia, and panic attacks (1)(2)(3).

This is why so many Functional Medicine doctors recommend their patients who struggle with these symptoms take a break from coffee as part of a general elimination diet.

Even if you don’t suffer from these symptoms, there’s still value in taking a break from coffee for at least a week or two a couple of times a year, especially if you can’t remember the last time you took a break—if ever.

This week, I’m going to walk you through my 7-Day Coffee Wind Down to gently get you off coffee (using my favorite coffee substitute) and give you the tools you need to take a short break from caffeine.

First, let’s get into what spawned our obsession with coffee in the first place and the pros and cons of drinking it.

The History of Coffee

Coffee’s history is as rich and dark as its brew. Since its discovery in an Ethiopian rainforest centuries ago, its addictive psychoactive properties have influenced massive economic gains, devastating environmental losses, and the upheaval of societies across the globe, for better and for worse. Interestingly enough, coffee replaced alcohol—the safest alternative to drinking water at the time—as Britain’s breakfast drink of choice in the late 1600s. Regular coffee drinking quickly became an act of patriotism in the U.S. after the Boston Tea Party. If you want to learn more about the history of coffee, the book Uncommon Grounds is a fantastic read.

Coffee’s Perks

Coffee is an amazing source of antioxidants, so much so that it’s actually one of the most popular sources in our diet (4)(5). Drinking coffee is linked to better immune health, reduced inflammation, less risk of cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), Alzheimer’s (6), type 2 diabetes, and obesity (4)(7)(8)(9). Research shows that the perks of coffee could be tied to its antioxidant and polyphenol-rich content that help reduce inflammation and support gut health (10).

Is Dependency Dangerous?

By now you might be asking yourself, “If coffee’s so good for me, Dhru, then what’s the problem?”. Unfortunately, like everything else, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. The sweet spot seems to be around 1 to 2 cups of coffee early in the day. It’s when we NEED (that’s the key word here) 4 or more cups to manage energy slumps, or just to get through the day that we start to run into problems. Those are often a sign of a dependency. 

Over time coffee dependency can disrupt your HPA axis, which messes with your hormones and directly impacts your mood. Do you ever feel jittery or anxious after your morning cup of joe? Do you get headaches or feel on edge when you don’t get your fix? These are signs of caffeine dependency, which could be your body telling you that it’s time to take a break.

Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world (11)(12), and it acts like one, too, by increasing the number and sensitivity of serotonin, GABA, and dopamine receptors in the brain (13)(14). That explains why so many have become dependent on it— that first sip tastes so damn good! It’s also why we feel crabby and irritable when we don’t get our fix.

Caffeine also triggers the release of the stress hormones cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine (15)(16). Like I mentioned before, if we’re already feeling stressed or burnt out, caffeine isn’t doing our HPA axis any favors (1)(2)(3).

A note for women (and men!) who drink coffee:

My fiancé and sisters enjoy their morning cup of coffee just as much as I do, but they make sure to limit it to 1 to 2 cups per day and take a one-week break a few times a year to give their system a chance to reset. Why? In the liver, caffeine shares the same enzyme for metabolism as estrogen, the CYP1A2 enzyme (19).

Depending on their genetic makeup, some women have more CYP1A2 enzymes (making them fast metabolizers); whereas others may have fewer CYP1A2 enzymes (making them slower metabolizers). The rate at which these enzymes function alongside other factors (ethnicity, diet, lifestyle, fasting blood glucose, BMI) affects estrogen metabolism.

In slow metabolizers, 2 or more cups of coffee per day has been linked to hormonal imbalances, estrogen dominance, delayed conception, and worsening of PMS symptoms, although the research on this is mixed (19)(20)(21)(22)(23)(24). Most people can determine how fast or slow they metabolize caffeine based on how they feel while drinking it. Slow metabolizers are more likely to experience anxiety, mood swings, aggression, insomnia compared to those who metabolize caffeine more rapidly.

A Natural Diuretic That Can Also Deplete Your Mood

We all know that too much caffeine makes us have to “go,” but increased urination causes electrolytes (salt, magnesium, potassium) and B vitamins to go too (hello, headaches!) (27)(28)(29), This could explain why some studies haven shown that coffee is linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease, migraines, and mood imbalance: (28)(29)(30) B vitamins are needed for homocysteine metabolism (an amino acid linked to heart disease), energy production, and serotonin and dopamine production.

This week, my Protocol focuses on two things: 1) switching up your coffee (or other caffeinated drink) to yerba mate to give yourself a 1-week break from caffeine; and 2) taking a break from caffeine completely to reset your metabolism and break free from caffeine dependency. 

The Protocol

I. Swap your coffee for yerba mate. Through experimenting together with my fiancé and talking to my family and friends, I’ve found that cutting caffeine cold turkey doesn’t really work, especially for those who are dependent on it. That’s why I take a different approach and swap it out for something a little less intense.

Similar to coffee and tea, yerba mate provides an impressive profile of phytonutrients and caffeine. However, one cup of yerba mate contains around 35 mg of caffeine, compared to 120 mg in a cup of coffee. Here’s the catch: despite still having some caffeine, yerba mate’s unique phytonutrient profile cancels out its negative side effects while still providing the same neuro-stimulatory, anti-inflammatory, and disease-fighting benefits (31)(32).

Yerba mate is great because I can enjoy a cup later in the day and still crawl into bed at night for a restful night’s sleep. My 7-Day Coffee Wind Down Protocol is for anyone who drinks 2 cups of coffee a day (or less). For those who drink more than that, consider extending the coffee wind down two weeks instead of one for a more gentle, gradual cleanse. 

Try This:

  1. My Coffee Wind Down Protocol. Please note: if you’re following this protocol and at any point get severe headaches or migraines, you might have something deeper going on. Talk to your health care practitioner, or better yet, talk to a Functional Medicine doctor—they can help figure out the root of what’s going on. With that being said, you’re going to need a few things before getting started:
    • Organic Yerba Mate. This looseleaf tea is super high-quality and easy to make using a French press or tea strainer. You can purchase Guayaki Yerba Mate on Amazon, or find their sugar-free drinks at your local health food store. 
    • Magnesium: Responsible for over 600 functions in the body and critical for sleep, magnesium is essential for health, and most people aren’t getting enough of it from their diet (33)(34)(35). If you get headaches when you stop drinking coffee, a solid magnesium supplement can be really helpful for providing some relief (36). Take it at night to calm the nervous system before sleep.
    • Methyl B-12: Vitamin B12 plays an important role in supporting our nervous system and energy levels, yet most people are deficient. I’ve found vitamin B12 super helpful for getting off coffee. Supplementing after lunch gives me an added energy boost.
    • Mindset: Before getting started on this protocol, make the mental commitment that you are going to try it for at least one full week (you can do anything for a week!).
Day Coffee Wind Down Schedule
Day 1 Morning

Coffee: If you normally have 2 cups of coffee, have 1 ½ cups of coffee instead. Yerba Mate: Have ½ cup of yerba mate to replace the coffee you removed.

Afternoon

Lunch B12: After eating lunch, take 5,000 to 10,000 mcg of a methyl-B12 supplement.  Yerba Mate: If you normally have a cup of coffee in the afternoon, have a cup of yerba mate instead. Try to avoid having caffeine after 4 pm.

Evening

Magnesium: Take 300 to 500 mg of magnesium after dinner.

Day 2 Repeat Day 1 Protocol
Day 3 Morning

Coffee/Yerba Mate: Have 1 cup of coffee, and 1 cup of yerba mate.

Afternoon

Lunch B12: After eating lunch, take 5,000 to 10,000 mcg of a methyl-B12 supplement.  Yerba Mate: If you need it (2 cups max). Avoid having caffeine (from coffee or mate) after 4 pm.

Evening

Magnesium: Take 300 to 500 mg of magnesium after dinner.

Day 4 Repeat Day 3 Protocol
Day 5 Morning

Coffee/Yerba Mate: Have ½ cup of coffee, and 1 to 2 cups of yerba mate.

Afternoon

Lunch B12: After eating lunch, take 5,000 to 10,000 mcg of a methyl-B12 supplement.  Yerba Mate: If you need it (1 cup). Avoid having caffeine (from coffee or mate) after 4 pm.

Evening

Magnesium: Take 300 to 500 mg of magnesium after dinner.

Day 6 Repeat Day 5 Protocol
Day 7 Morning

Coffee/Yerba Mate: Have 1 to 2 cups of yerba mate. No coffee.

Afternoon

Lunch B12: After eating lunch, take 5,000 to 10,000 mcg of a methyl-B12 supplement.  Yerba Mate: If you need it (1 cup). Avoid having caffeine (from coffee or mate) after 2 pm. 

Evening

Magnesium: Take 300 to 500 mg of magnesium after dinner.

II. Take a break! After giving my 7-Day Coffee Wind Down a try, see if you can take a week off from caffeine completely. This will allow your body a chance to fast fully and reset from any dependency. Do this a couple of times a year and always remember to drink plenty of water while you cleanse your system. 

Try This: 

  1. During your caffeine break, switch to an organic decaffeinated coffee. It’s important to choose a quality decaffeinated coffee that doesn’t go through a harsh chemical treatment to strip its caffeine. Many coffee brands use methylene chloride (an active ingredient in paint thinner) to decaffeinate coffee. My friend Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Original Decaf Coffee is one of the cleanest I’ve seen on the market. I recommend it to anyone looking to take a caffeine break, but still wants that satisfying sensory experience that coffee brings.
  2. Mushroom coffee. When taking a break from caffeine entirely, it’s nice to replace it with something just as good. Four Sigmatic’s Lion’s Mane Instant Mushroom Coffee is a quick and easy caffeine-free coffee alternative that satisfies my senses while still giving me that coffee mouthfeel and a little pep in my step.

III. Replenish. It’s critical to make sure you’re replenishing your body with electrolytes, especially coming off drinking caffeine without any breaks. Drinking lots of coffee causes us to have to go to the bathroom frequently, and with this loss of water comes depletion of sodium, potassium, and magnesium (27)(37). When we stop drinking coffee we might suffer from withdrawal symptoms (headache, chills, irritability) because we’re lacking vital nutrients. Make sure you replenish what you lost to curb any major caffeine withdrawal symptoms and promote the proper functioning of your cells. 

Try This:

  1. Filtered water with fresh lemon or lime juice and a pinch of salt. This is a tasty way to incorporate electrolytes without drinking a sugary sports drink. I use Redmond Real Salt because it doesn’t have microplastics and does contain added trace minerals.
  2. BodyBio E-Lyte Concentrate of Pure Electrolytes. My business partner and friend Dr. Mark Hyman swears by this! E-Lyte’s proprietary blend of purified water, potassium, sodium, and magnesium mimics the body’s natural electrolyte levels for optimal hydration, replenishment, and energy. It also has 0 g of sugar and no artificial sweeteners, which is tough to come by in an electrolyte drink!

We are a nation that runs on coffee, but let’s not allow that coffee to run us! Research shows that the phytonutrients and antioxidants in coffee and tea are beneficial for our health, but we can’t use this as leverage to turn a blind eye to how much of it we’re consuming. The last thing we want to do is mask any underlying issues that need attention, or worsen a dysfunctional HPA axis that needs to be reset.

I want to be completely clear, I’m a huge fan of coffee! I enjoy it freely and look forward to having it in the mornings with my fiancé. However, I’m an even bigger fan of throwing some grit into my life.

Even though taking a one week coffee break a couple of times a year sounds like a tough thing to do, it’s an opportunity—for a short period of time—to overcome something difficult and come out stronger, with better health and happiness because of it. 

Try my 7-Day Coffee Wind Down Protocol to cut back on your caffeine intake. Remember, if you’re drinking more than two cups of coffee (or equivalent caffeinated beverage) per day, it’s best to take it slow and wind down your intake at a gradual pace. Supplementing with vitamin B12, magnesium, and B vitamins will support your brain and nervous system as you come off of it. After you’ve successfully completed my 7-Day Coffee Wind Down, try kicking caffeine completely for a week, and see how you feel. You might notice a change in your mood, sleep, or natural energy levels. 

If you tried my Protocol this week, I’d love to hear from you! Text me your feedback at 302-200-5643.

In health and gratitude,
Dhru Purohit

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