Suddenly Sixty: Caffeine
Pssst: it may seem heretical in this java crazed part of the Northwest, but coffee can be bad for you.
Now that that is off my chest, here is my logic: over time coffee is acidic and can be damaging to our stress level, stomach, intestines, heart, and brain. Starting in college, for the past forty years I estimate that I have consumed about 73,000 cups of coffee. If I patted myself on the back for avoiding the 5 Hour Energy and other super-charged caffeinated drinks along the way, it was false bravado. The way I consumed coffee, as my wife interjected, was intense: black and on an empty stomach. Black coffee was what I felt I needed daily for four basic reasons: 1) the ritual; (I love the aroma and the pattern of making and drinking the brew); 2) the java-jolt pick-me-up (the lift could be what was needed for the daily grind); 3) the diuretic (it seemed to go to my bladder and clean out the fluids); and 4) as part of my daily constitution (dependency on coffee can be anti-constipating). If I went without coffee, even for a day, I would regret it as the wave of sustained headaches took over my brain. That severe head pounding was the sign of addiction and dependency.
As hard as it is for anyone to make changes in our lives, it seems more daunting at 60 than it did before …”Well, I made it this far and I’m still kicking, must be OK, right?” My interrupted sleep, rough stomach, hyper moods, and dependence on coffee was taking a toll on my health. My body was saying, “This is not OK.” and my wife was asking, “What are your afraid of?” I was afraid of going without it!
Going to my Internist for my annual physical and check-up in March and I asked my doctor about coffee. His advice? Cut back and/or drink tea. If it were caffeine that I craved, there were safer ways to ingest it. I tucked away that nugget. I also asked about the flu shot. Teaching in a public school I was around a lot of diseases all of the time and I did not want to be a carrier nor a catcher of the flu. My Internist said, “It is late in the flu season and you have made it this far, plus the shots we have this year are not proving effective against the most prevalent strains of the flu, so I recommend that you skip it.” Taking his advice, in about three weeks I came down with the most wicked case of the flu I had contracted in years.
Flat on my back for a week, I was hallucinating, freezing, sweating, semi-sleeping, not eating, not drinking, and badly thinking. The headaches were intense, both from the caffeine withdrawal and from the influenza.
When I was back in the classroom, it seemed the right to stop the daily five cups of coffee routine and to insert lemon water instead. It sounds bland and unimaginative, at first, but it was time to change. Warm water with fresh lemon is now my daily routine. It may not be lowering my acid intake any, but I feel better knowing that the caffeine level has been knocked to near zero, at least when I avoid chocolate.