Caffeine & Ayurvedic Alternatives
Updated: Mar 7, 2022
When I mention the idea of eventually lessening or removing caffeine to a client, I most often get pretty significant reactions. People are attached to their caffeine intake in the form of tea, soda, energy drinks, and chocolate, but most notably - coffee.
Caffeine is derived from a natural insecticide found in over 60 plants. It is the world's most widely consumed psychoactive drug. It uses the same biochemical mechanisms as other drugs, like amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin, to stimulate brain function. Yet unlike other psychoactive substances, it is largely unregulated and legal in most parts of the world. Caffeine use is socially acceptable in most cultures of the world and even encouraged, especially in the Western world. It is a physically addictive substance, albeit an acceptable addiction in our culture, but it comes with a myriad of health consequences.
Caffeine is an adrenal and nervous system stimulant and an irritant to the digestive system. It can affect women’s estrogen levels, raise blood pressure, and trigger an increased release of stress hormones, particularly cortisol. It essentially pushes the body into the "fight or flight" response by inducing a massive release of hormones that tell the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline (epinephrine). It tells the body there is an emergency. Yet often, there is not an emergency. In fact, most people are sitting down with their cup of something, in a safe place. Unfortunately, this creates the physiology of chronic stress for daily partakers.
Aside from blasting the adrenals and nervous system, it is a significant contributor to oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. In addition, caffeine is a diuretic and an appetite suppressant, deranging our natural hunger cues.
Habitual caffeine consumption can lead to conditions like peptic ulcers, anxiety disorders, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, adrenal exhaustion, chronic fatigue, bone loss, and chronic constipation. Ugh, sorry to rain on the caffeine lover's parade.
Ayurveda suggests several caffeine alternatives
Fortunately, Ayurveda offers us several beverages and treats containing powerful herbs that will satisfy the need for a tasty energy boost or a moment of relaxation, while also keeping our doshas balanced and naturally supporting rejuvenation of the body and mind.
Ayurveda recommends taking adaptogenic herbs in place of caffeine for a nourishing way to support natural energy, soothe your nervous system, boost your immune system and overall wellbeing without the deleterious effects of caffeine. Adaptogenic herbs like Ashwagandha, Brahmi, Shatavari, Tulsi, and Astragalus are wonderful options that help support the body's natural ability to deal with stress and help one find balance by promoting homeostasis. Any of these herbs can be steeped in hot water to make an energy-promoting, stress-relieving tea while also providing several other health benefits.
See my Wonder Woman Tonic post for an adaptogenic drink recipe that includes Shatavari.
For a tasty treat, see my post on Sunbutter Truffles that contain Ashwagandha.
Coriander Coffee is a fantastic health-promoting alternative that additionally provides that bitter taste that many coffee-drinkers crave. Coriander seeds are roasted, ground, and made into a beverage. The roasting provides a coffee-like bitterness while the coriander seeds aid digestion, constipation, and intestinal gas. They also lower blood pressure, soothe the urinary system, and are calming to Vata and Pitta.
Ready to kick your caffeine habit?
Caffeine is a powerful drug, and removing it from your system takes time and care so as to avoid some nasty detox effects like headaches and fatigue. The general rule of thumb is to decrease the caffeinated coffee by 1/4 - 1/2 cup every 2-4 days, replacing that amount with decaf coffee until you are ultimately drinking all decaf. It is important to slowly change the ratio of your coffee to just decaf over a period of days so that your nervous system can slowly adjust to less stimulation.
Then the ultimate goal would be to switch out the decaf coffee for a more supportive and nourishing beverage (like the adaptogenic teas & drinks), but switching to just decaf is the first baby step - although a big and sometimes challenging one. Also, remember to drink plenty of water!
Can't say bye to caffeine quite yet?
For those that just don't want to say bye to their daily cup of coffee, below are some tips to adjust the energetics of this beverage to make it a tad less imbalancing for your dosha.
Please note, for those with dominant Vata or Pitta constitutions, the stimulating effect of caffeine will be most imbalancing as these doshas typically already have high-strung nervous systems. If there is excess Vata or Pitta, it is best to completely abstain from any caffeine. Kapha types can actually benefit from a little caffeine (1 cup/ day) as they often need some stimulation for their sluggish system.
Coffee for Vata & Pitta
Sweeten your coffee with high-quality organic cane sugar or maple syrup to promote a more grounding, nourishing effect on your system
Add 1-2 tsp of fat (ghee or coconut oil) to slow down absorption, stabilize blood sugar, and to counteract the beverage’s acidic and drying qualities.
Add protective spices like a pinch of cardamom, cinnamon, or turmeric to add anti-inflammatory, alkaline-forming digestive support. Cardamom especially will help redirect the energy downwards, buffering the stimulating effect to your nervous system.
No more than 1 cup daily.
Coffee for Kapha
Avoid milk, cream, and sugar, and take your coffee black.
No more than 1 cup daily.
Ayurveda & living without caffeine
Ayurveda is a timeless and complete healing system that greatly depends on the ability of the health seeker to cultivate self-awareness. When we seek to know ourselves, when we pay attention to the cues, signals, and symptoms that arise within our being, we become aware of what needs adjustment. That truly is the first step in making a positive change towards wellbeing.
Unfortunately, daily caffeine intake muddles your ability to attain a calm and clear state of being, and therefore it impedes your awareness.
But when you overcome the addiction to caffeine and it's no longer a part of your daily routine, you can experience what it is like to be in a natural state. From the natural state is where you can start to align with your natural rhythms and cycles and be in a position to successfully work towards healing and balance.