Thursday, June 17, 2010

De-caffeinating My Life

By Christian Wernstedt

Don't get me wrong. I think that coffee is great - almost as great as Ray Peat thinks.

Even so, I have decided that I can't allow my caffeine intake to dictate my mood and energy anymore. I want to troubleshoot why I feel so slow and grumpy in the AM, particularly until I have had that first cup of joe. Another issue is that I have noticed how caffeine seems to make my heart rate go into overdrive with a lag of a few hours and I suspect it messes with my blood sugar too. (To be accurate, it seems like decaf coffee has somewhat deleterious side effects as well on my mental- and physical state.)

On a more general level, I want to see how far a clean paleo lifestyle can take me in terms of day to day well being and energy. I got a great energy boost from going paleo in mid 2008, and I think that, inherently, the human body, given an optimal supply of nutrients, should be able to produce just the right amounts of neurotransmitters and feel-good-chemicals in order to not need supplemental stimulants like coffee.

In any case, I'm not set to take coffee out of my life; I just don't want to be a slave to it. I'd like to rewind the clock 20 years or so, to the time when having a cup of coffee did something tangibly positive for me rather than just picking me up to baseline (combined with a cluster of side effects).

So, a couple of weeks ago, I begun cutting down on coffee by only drinking just enough to satisfy cravings and mitigate withdrawal symptoms. I might now toss away half a cup of espresso at the point where I feel that I've had the "right" amount. This has worked quite well, particularly in terms of my subjective experience of less feelings of stress and unduly raised pulse. A side effect in the first week was a bit of dizziness in the late afternoon, and in later weeks some headache - classic caffeine withdrawal symptoms.

Two weeks ago I also wanted to start addressing my grumpy morning mood and remaining afternoon coffee cravings. For that purpose I got a supply of supplements to use for troubleshooting and as training wheels. The book The Mood Cure (HT: Cheeseslave) and Poliquin's seminar on brain nutrition provided some tips in regard to which ones.

Coffee has multi-pronged effects on the psyche. It stimulates the release of dopamine (the "go-do-something" neurotransmitter), it releases endorphins (feel good chemicals), and it impacts serotonin (a neurotransmitter related to mood and a range of other things).

So I wanted to try some supplemental compounds that might also impact the same brain chemicals in order to perhaps discover why I crave coffee in the morning, and to mitigate whatever deficiency might be implied by that.

At this point I've tried the following in a preliminary way - one compound per day, except for #4 which I've taken almost every day:

1) DLPA (DL-Phenylalanine) - Impacts both dopamine and endorphins levels positively. This is the one that Cheeseslave reported great results with.
2) L-Tyrosine - Impacts dopamine.
3) 5-HTP - A precursor to serotonin.

4) R-Lipoic Acid + Acetyl-L-Carnitine . (I'm not sure how related it is to what caffein does, but I threw this into the mix because it's a tried and tested combo for clearing "brain fog" in the morning.)

I wish I could announce a miracle cure at this point, but so far I can't say that any of the above has made any significant difference. This actually makes sense because a paleo diet, after all, supplies these compounds naturally through food given good digestive function, and I don't have any overt digestive problems. (By the way, carby foods can create a temporary release of serotonin that probably beats a typical low carb paleo meal, but that's more of a transient effect.)

I will probably try the supplements a bit more systematically in another round of testing, while continuing to reduce my daily dose of coffee.

The goal is to go to zero, and to stay there for a couple of weeks with more troubleshooting of my morning grumpiness, and then to go back to drinking a small amount every day.

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