‘To be caffeinated is not baseline consciousness but altered consciousness.’ Michael Pollan
Caffeine is the second most traded commodity on the planet after Oil. Nearly 90% adults ingest caffeine daily; a widely used unregulated drug. A cup of caffeine promises wakefulness, alertness, creativity, uplifts mood and what not. Caffeine is a botanical success story, it has shaped the modern world at an astronomical cost .The question that we need to answer to ourselves – Is it a cup of optimism or despair?
What is Caffeine? Naturally occurring chemical found in Coffee, Decaf Coffee, Black/Green/White Tea, Cocoa beans, Chocolate, Colas and some medicinal herbs. Scientific name 1,3,7 Trimethylxanthine ( in layman’s world – DRUG).
Why I came to write about this sober and civilized beverage? In the past, I had come across a plethora of conflicting views on caffeine. Why some re- searches claim health benefits of tea and coffee? Some even claim that it prevents cancer and other chronic diseases. On the other hand, caffeine is known to disturb sleep and natural healing ability of body. It’s also the cause of chronic illnesses. It’s an unfortunate reality in Health and Nutrition space. If you can’t convince others confuse them, at least people with vested interest can thrive in the world of confusion, stimulation and addiction. Hence I started to research and tie it to my own journey with caffeine. Ever wondered what will be the impact on World’s Economy and Individuals if caffeine is tak- en away for 6 days? Caffeine is not a food supplement, so how did it become an integral part of diet? Without further ado, let’s get to the point.
Is caffeine a psychoactive drug? NASA conducted research on spiders in the 1980s. Spiders were exposed to different drugs including caffeine. NASA shared an image that showed their inability to construct a logical web. Caffeine is a widely studied psychoactive drug. Many researches have proved it’s intoxi- cated effects on bees and humans too. Neither nutrition nor calories, then how does it energize and harm?
Stimulates Nervous system Every living being has its own rhythmic patterns like eat, drink, excrete, urine, secrete, sleep. The sleep-wake cycle is driven by circadian rhythm (approximately 24 hours). What causes sleep? A chemical called ‘Adenosine’, it builds up in the brain with every waking minute that elapses. The longer you are awake, the more it will accumulate. Very gradually it increases the desire to sleep. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system , it binds to Adenosine re- ceptors. Hence blocks the sleep signals. It tricks us to be alert and awake.
Caffeine Metabolism Caffeine gets absorbed in the bloodstream within half an hour of consumption. Hence we feel instantly alert and productive. The half life lasts for 5 to 7 hours, other half takes 10 to 18 hours to metabolize (for the average human) . For instance, a cup of coffee at 8 AM may get completely metabolized around midnight. Now imagine the cumulative impact of several cups of caffeine during the day.
Caffeine crash Liver enzyme flushes caffeine from the bloodstream, just like any other toxin. As a result en- ergy level goes down and restlessness kicks in. Hence the desire for caffeine increases, as we ingest another cup we feel alert. Daily caffeine promises optimal solutions for the problem it creates. At first it creates a prob- lem and then solves its own problem, thereby create one problem after another.
Increases Blood sugar, Blood pressure, Soreness in stomach Our body has a natural ‘Fight or Flight’ response to any threat (real/ imaginary). That’s how we deal with threats from predators and calamities. As caffeine stimulates Adrenal gland, fight or flight response gets triggered. As a result stored reserves of glucose get released in the blood and heart rate goes up. This false alarm raises sugar levels, thereby calling for higher insulin to combat the damage. It is an acidic compound, hence it stimulates the stomach to produce more Hydrochloric Acid. Imagine, our system is going through this stress every time we ingest caffeine. It eventually leads to high BP, weight gain, diabetes, poor digestive tract and depression.
Survey on Caffeine consumption I opened a survey in Jan’21. The idea is to highlight the gravity of the problem, myths and tie the data with my research. Please take the survey and share https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/7PBK2YR Assuming I have convinced you to quit caffeine , the next step is to know how we landed in this mess and how to abstain. I will also share how I quit caffeine and how we all can become caffeine free. Take a fruit break! Come back to read more about this topic. All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
INTEGRATED APPROACH TOWARDS CAFFEINE FREE SOCIETY My mode as a writer is to layer different perspectives: the scientific, the philosophical, the po- litical, the journalistic. When you layer them, you get a really wholesome, interesting picture. Michael Pollan
Have you ever wondered why average life expectancy is increasing, yet quality is deteriorat- ing? Why has the US FDA cited 400 milligrams a day—that’s about four or five cups of cof- fee? Why World’s top Soda companies add caffeine in Cola? Some of us think a cup of caffeine is harmless if coupled with a healthy diet ,exercise and sleep. If you still think it’s okay to ingest caffeine then be ready for nasty consequences.
Caffeine’s role in Plant Everything in nature has a purpose, so what’s the role of caffeine in plants? It’s a quest of every species to have more of its kind. Probably, that’s why human beings have outnumbered other species. Plant being the immovable species, has a sophisticated strategy to protect it- self from predators and clone without moving with the help of pollinators. Herbicide – Why does it intoxicate? Why not kill? It intoxicates the predators because poisoning is not an intelligent idea. As per the law of adaptation, in order to survive, all the species gradually develop resistance to external threats. Rather it’s better to sedate the predator, disarm it and let it be eaten by its predators. Invitation to pollinators Caffeine is also produced in the nectar of some citrus families. How did caffeine land in the citrus family? Is it an accident? Research suggests the scent attracts the bees, helps them in recalling , thereby it visits caffeinated flowers 4 times more than non-caffeinated ones. There- by helps in spreading by creating an illusion of nutritional nectar. Just to add, citrus fruits are caffeine free.
HOW DID WE LAND IN THIS MESS? Let’s look at the brief history of caffeinated drinks. Coffee 27+ million acres plantation It is believed that Coffee was first discovered in 850 AD, accidentally goats of an Ethiopian Goatherd chewed coffee berries and stayed up the whole night. He performed various exper- iments on coffee beans and invented brewing. Gained popularity in Arabian Peninsula, a hot beverage that cured microbial diseases & consumed in place of forbidden alcohol.It was an aid to concentration for Sufis in Yemen during religious observance. The Arabs controlled cul- tivation, sold roasted beans until a Dutch trader smuggled a plant (Mocha). Europeans used it to defog alcohol impact, then emerged as daytime beverage. Coffee houses promoted social, intellectual, political, cultural exchange, and men of different classes could sit together over a cup of coffee. As the demand grew, Europeans turned to their colonies for massive plantation in tropical highlands of Asia, Africa, South America. The term ‘Coffee break’ came in the 1950s, compulsory coffee breaks led to increase in pro- ductivity.
Tea 10+ million acres plantation 1000 BC, Originated in China, used as medicine and aid to meditation for Buddhist Monks. 618 AD popularized as a recreational drink by the Tang Dynasty. 17th Century, arrived in the
UK, only available for Monarchs and upper classes . Later on with the rise in coffee houses, it was made available to all classes. The UK became the largest importer of Tea from China, struggling to pay back in Silver. To solve economic issues with China, British East India com- pany planted Tea and Opium in India. UK smuggled opium in China, by 1828 opium repre- sented 16% of UK’s revenue. Chinese mind clouded with opium and English mind sharpened with Tea. 1839, UK with its supreme Navy declared a war on China and colonized Hong Kong.
Tea in China was never sweetened, English people sweetened it because it tasted bitter. Hence it led to massive production of sugar in Caribbean.
Glorious or Inglorious, past is past, as long as we wake up ‘Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time.’ Viktor E. Frankl
From herbicide to a compulsive drink, it is indeed a botanical success story. The footprint of Caffeine changed after it arrived in Europe. The World of Innovation, Science, Literature and Art wouldn’t have been possible without the heroic doses of caffeine.
It’s a coincidence that ‘Minute hand’ on clock and Coffee arrived at the same time in the his- torical moment. For the medieval man, the angle of sun mattered more as he mostly worked outdoors. There was no need to subdivide an hour. As the work moved from outdoors to in- doors, caffeine and light bulbs released us from the fixed rhythm of the Sun. Hence, created an illusion of productivity.
Organizations and authorities will not benefit if we become a caffeine free society. Often we get confusing information in the health and nutrition space. People with ulterior interests sponsor pro-caffeine research. Hence, we don’t hear about the real truth. If there’s no benefit why would anyone sponsor these researches?
The questions that we need to answer, What price are we paying for quick mental ener- gy? Is this the only way to become alert and focussed? Wondering how we have been duped? Let’s find out-
8 STEPS TO DUPE AN INTELLECT -Glorify half-truth (hide the negatives) - Let them experience half-truth, observe short term benefits then get them hooked -sponsor biased research. Let more intellects socialise, brainstorm and endorse Low energy is a common withdrawal symptom. Maintain sugar levels by increasing the intake of fresh seasonal fruits Enhance non-caffeinated experience Flower and Herbal Teas are good alternatives. For a couple of times, enhance the experience with special bites and conversations. Let the brain register happiness with it. Reserve your favourite kettle and cup for non-caffeinated drinks only. Friction Make Tea/coffee cans difficult to access. I had kept one pack for my guests in a tight box, it was cumbersome to open and seal back. Definitely don’t keep it in the kitchen.
Give away existing packs/ Make Compost When we get rid of cues, we become more liberated. The probability of buying another pack decreases. Wellness Buddy or Group Pull in your buddy/ Group in Caffeine- Free initiative. Help track each others progress. Think as if you are supporting them and not otherwise . You will notice a remarkable shift in your own journey of change.
Step 4 Seven Golden Crosses Practice abstinence for 30 days. Mark ‘X’ for hit and ‘O’ for miss on your calendar. Don’t both- er if it’s ‘X’ or ‘O’. Catch hold of 7 consecutive crosses... maintain till 21 in a row. It’s okay to miss in between...start over again till you get 7 crosses and then 21. We get points for intentions not righteousness.
Step 5 Flaunt Cruelty Free work Share your story of being Caffeine free. How did you do it? How do you sleep like a baby? How do you feel more liberated? It is the only way to spread awareness and progress towards caffeine free society.
Unsustainable virtues are shallow and overrated There’s a notion about ‘Good Health’, that it needs a massive amount of awareness, work, motivation, will power etc. We try and get overwhelmed by actions that we raise our hands and give up.There’s a middle ground of neither justifying nor digressing.
Condition the mind Couple of more facts to be deeply ingrained in the mind:
1. Ecologically devastating Over 37 million acres of land is used to plant Coffee and Tea . What is absurd about this crop, the end product is extraction of caffeine molecules, rest everything goes to landfill. Our world would be a better place if the same ecosystem is put to use for real crops.
2. By 2050, Coffee plantation will scale down As a result of changing climate, by 2050, 50 % of the land currently growing coffee will no longer be suitable for coffee production. Hence to feed our addiction , inorganic caffeine tablets may act as substitutes. Imagine at work, there are vending machines for Caffeine tablets instead of Tea/Coffee machines.
3. Alertness is borrowed, paid back with interest
The cause of the leading chronic illnesses is not only poor lifestyle but also impaired immune system. The immune system heals during sleep, caffeine undermines the quality of sleep (Deep or ‘slow wave’ ). It’s critical for memory, mental health and the immune system. This is a very short period yet deep, the slow waves start radiating from the front of the brain into the back, and they harmonize all the neurons. It’s like cleaning up the workstation at the end of the day. Think as if the body has deployed soldiers to heal the affected system but every time they fight, they get punched on their face by the toxicity of caffeine.
4. Economic exploitation For every $4 Latte, only a few pennies reach the farmer (till date each berry is plucked manu- ally). 1989, with the rise of new liberal economics, the buying power got consolidated in the hands of a few MNCs. There’s no free trade, prices are set in the Futures market in London and New York. For many years, the farmers got less than the cost of growing.
Conclusion Start demanding non-caffeinated beverages. More tasty and healthy options will surface in the market. That’s how demand and supply work.
Like many other wrongdoings, evolution didn’t anticipate that humans will rely on a herbicide for productivity. Honestly, I didn’t put together my research for adults. We are too caught up with our spiritualistic and materialistic goals. How often each one of us reflects on our actions (including me), What values are we passing on to our next generation? Why will they not in- dulge in Caffeine, Cigarettes, Alcohol or other psychoactive drug? I will leave you with a ques- tion – Would you like your child to suffer from any chronic illness? I am sure you won’t, then spread the awareness , stop Caffeine and stop giving them in any form like colas, coffee, tea etc. Remember they are watching us!
Any man can fight the battles of just one day. It is only when you and I add the burden of those two awful entities, Yesterday and Tomorrow, that we break down. It is not the experi- ence of today that drives men mad. It is remorse or bitterness for something which happened yesterday or the dread of what tomorrow may bring. Let us therefore do our best to live but one day at a time
About the Author: Vartika Sinha, a chartered accountant by profession, is also the Founder of Ubuntu Holistic Human Development. She focuses on self-care that is accomplished by participants with the help of Yoga, meditation, life skills, healthy habits and activities. A full time Painter and a strong advocate of sustainable living she spreads awareness about health, environment and consciousness through her writings and paintings. She has been a key vol- unteer in establishing the Butterfly Park, Gurgaon and her endeavors have found a special place in the Environmental Studies CBSE book of class 9.