As Americans we will probably never receive notoriety for our patience and relaxed existences. We thrive on Starbucks and Red Bull. You can often hear Americans brag about functioning on only 4-5 hours of sleep each night; when in fact we are actually stressing our bodies to the point of Adrenal fatigue/HPA Axis dysfunction causing memory loss, low concentration, difficulty losing weight, depression, anxiety and extreme levels of exhaustion.
Most of us often deal with stressors that are outside of our control; whether it is family, work or another circumstance, and these stressors can have a tremendous effect on our health. Most of us fail to realize that we can help our bodies cope with life stressors through lifestyle changes. Our decisions can help determine how our body is able to respond to those stressors. Although, some decision are harder; such as an unhappy marriage, or leaving a job that treats you poorly. One example, easily changed is the consumption of caffeine.
So how exactly does caffeine stress your adrenal glands? Caffeine is a xanthine alkaloid that affects the central nervous system, and acts as a psychoactive stimulant; which increases the rate at which neurons in the brain fire. This, in turn, stimulates both the central and sympathetic nervous systems. This effect can also be described as the “flight or fight response” which is the same adrenaline and cortisol rush you would experience if you were put in a life or death situation. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot rationalize the difference between a mugger and a mug of coffee. Stress on the hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands, are the same regardless of the circumstance.
Interestingly, caffeine is routinely used to induce panic attacks in clinical experiments. “When given caffeine doses equivalent to that in 4-5 cups of coffee, nearly ½ of panic disorder patients experienced a reaction that was indistinguishable from a spontaneous panic attack (Bruce 1989).”
Caffeine feeds the vicious cycle of stress on our adrenals. We lead stressful lives and become sleep deprived, so we start our mornings with a nice cup of coffee that gives us a boost of artificial energy, and increase in cortisol. Later, our bodies start to “crash” so we reach for more caffeine to get us through the day. With the average American consuming an average of 420 mg of caffeine a day, it is not shocking that many struggle with anxiety and compromised adrenal glands. A conscious awareness of ones caffeine intake is important for supporting adrenal health, the ability to deal with stress of life and live healthier.
The chart below shows the amount of caffeine (mg) in common beverages. The goal is to stay under 200 mg a day. Your adrenals will thank you and your body will return to homeostasis.