Releasing the Caffeine-Adrenal-Blood Sugar Bind

Recently, a lovely little tea shop opened its doors in my local hood. I couldn’t resist capturing a shot of their blooming tea cup display…

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As I was sipping on a caffeine-free cup of Bourbon vanilla rooibos (keepin’ it classy), I started pondering just how many jolts of full-fledged caffeine many of us take in. Between coffee, green/black/white teas, energy drinks, chocolate and even kombucha, caffeine can be a sturdy crutch (or Starcrutch according to my clever BF).

For eons, caffeine has been used therapeutically as a ritual to spark mental clarity, wakefulness and social communication (ie. coffee/tea dates). We each have a variable caffeine tolerance, where one cup might be the key to powering through our inbox, or it could send our digestive system running to the nearest ‘outbox’.

While caffeine may not be the worst culprit out there (check out this fun infographic on coffee vs. tea), there’s a bad romance that blossoms between high doses of caffeine, our adrenal glands and blood sugar levels. Like a dysfunctional co-dependent relationship. A torrid love triangle if you will.

As many of us can agree, caffeine is considered a potent stimulant. I personally struggle with keeping my daily tea bag count in check. A mouthful of coffee will usually swing my blood sugar levels straight to the ceiling (even after a whopping insulin bolus).

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Caffeine’s stimulant effect on our nervous system triggers our adrenal glands to release catecholamines (a.k.a. stress hormones). This also hinders our insulin sensitivity, or how our cells deal with glucose in the blood.

Dr. Aviva Romm offers up an awesome explanation here as to how our thyroid and adrenal glands react to chronic stress, whether we’re faced with a real ‘fight-or-flight’ situation or first-world perceived stressors (like deadlines, traffic and family drama). Caffeine pulls the same prank. The more we exhaust our adrenal glands, the more reliant we become on caffeine.

Episodes of low blood sugar also prompt our adrenals to release the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to adrenal fatigue. For those of us with type 1 diabetes, these “episodes” can happen multiple times a day. Oy vey.

So lately I’ve been experimenting with a few caffeine-free (or lower caffeine) tea blends. Aside from withdrawal headaches and pangs of separation anxiety, I definitely notice a change in clarity and generally feeling less ‘blah’.

If you’re looking to lower caffeine and give your adrenals a breather, here are a few healthy alternatives to old Earl Grey and cup of Joe…

  • Carob ‘Herbal Coffee’. Brands like Teeccino are taking the herbal coffee scene by storm. To make your own, simply boil water, add roasted carob, cinnamon, vanilla bean, ginger or any other spices/herbs you’re into, steep for 10 minutes and strain out (or use a tea ball). For more carob inspiration, check out Living Herbal Tea.
  • Chaga. As mentioned in my previous mushroom musings, chaga tea covers a whole gamut of anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. Plus it has a nice roasted nutty flavour. You can even add it to smoothies like this one from tuja wellness.
  • Oolong. Somewhere along the spectrum of green and black teas, oolong fits in nicely. Finding its first roots in China over 400 years ago, oolong is a semi-green fermented tea brimming with antioxidants. Although it still contains caffeine, oolong seems to have a relaxant effect on the nervous system. Groovy, right?
  • Roasted Dandelion Root. Yep, the very same weed we pluck out of the garden or made a wish and blew on as a child (did you do that too?). In tea form, dandelion root has some major liver-supportive properties. As far as herbal teas go, its dark nutty flavor is rich and robust.

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Caffeine qualms aside, sometimes a chai or matcha latte seems to solve everything.

I’ll likely keep justifying my ‘moderate’ caffeine intake (and subbing in healthier tea leaf options) until I kick the habit 🙂

Peace and caffeine balance,

xo

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