There is a lot of talk of detox in the wellness world, and a lot of that begs the question, “Is that necessary?” Don’t our bodies do detoxing for us, like, it’s their job? Well, yes and no. Our bodies do work hard doing a ton of detoxification—our livers, kidneys, bladders, digestive system, skin, etc., are all working all the time to rid toxins from our bodies as they enter through environmental and voluntary input.
The issue now becomes the input—it’s a lot. A much heavier toxic load than we were ever designed to take on. There’s pollution in the air, tons of toxins and heavy metals in our food, and even our vegetables and fruit are increasingly less nutritionally dense thanks to depleted soil and pesticides. But we digress.
We are all in favor of a well-balanced lifestyle. That means having some sugar every so often, enjoying that cocktail or glass of biodynamic wine, relishing our morning cuppa—but the key here, and everywhere, always, is moderation. And if we are suffering from some ill-effects it may be time to take some time off from our slightly naughty “voluntary input.”
We spoke with someone very much up for the task when it comes to breaking down this idea. Dr. Uma Naidoo is a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, nutrition specialist, and author of the national bestseller This is Your Brain on Food. She intimately understands the nuances of food and the effects it can have on us.
We know that the idea of separating from our morning coffee for even a small period of time can send some of us spiraling, or even make us react angrily. We get it, it’s your one major vice, you work hard and you deserve it! We won’t take that away from you. But Dr. Naidoo explains that when things are going south health-wise due to something we are consuming, the only way to get better is, you guessed it, a little detox.
“Caffeine is a substance whose effects are highly individualized,” Dr. Naidoo starts.
“Because of the uniqueness of each individual’s microbiome, some people react to caffeine— even the smaller amounts in a cup of matcha or green tea—in a way that can be overly stimulating and even cause hyperactivity, stress, or anxiety over time,” she says.
“Caffeine can give us a ‘boost’ in our alertness and focus, but leave us with an all-too-familiar ‘crash’ when it wears off. And if you’re getting your caffeine from energy-boosting or focus/alertness beverages on the market, you may be overloading yourself with both caffeine and added sugar.” That’s quite a lot of voluntary input on the daily that our bodies have to reckon with.
Luckily, it’s not all bad, Dr. Naidoo explains. “It’s important to note that there are several positive health benefits of caffeine if you can tolerate it in moderation, such as protection against liver disease, some types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and even some fat burning!” Yee yaw, that’s exactly the news we wanted to hear. But not so fast …
“However, refraining from caffeine for a designated amount of time, or in essence, a detox, can eventually provide individuals with a sense of calm, improve sleep, and reduce feelings of anxiety,” she says. “Depending on each individual’s sensitivity, abstaining from caffeine can provide us with an improved sense of natural stimulation and recognition of body intelligence, one of my pillars of nutritional psychiatry.
“When we remove ourselves from the cycle of ‘powering up’ and crashing (often followed by another burst of caffeine), we are best able to tap into our body’s needs, and choose to fill up our proverbial cup with nourishing food, adequate sleep, and a vibrant lifestyle.” We think that’s a much more beautiful perspective on going cold turkey with our beloved nectar. But cutting out caffeine is not easy. Dr. Naidoo shares some tips on how to make it through the hump.
“As a nutritional psychiatrist, I love utilizing nutrient-dense whole foods to activate the body’s natural detoxifying abilities while also stimulating energy levels. For example, dark chocolate and berries provide the body with natural sources of mood-boosting antioxidants and flavonols that can provide a sense of mental stimulation or energy, similar to that of caffeine,” she says.
“Caffeine withdrawal has been shown to cause feelings of fatigue, so generalized mood-boosting and anti-inflammatory diets can help ease this process. In addition, sometimes coming off caffeine can precipitate anxiety or panic, so tapering down slowly if you drink several cups a day is key to a careful and more comfortable caffeine detox.
“It’s a good idea to follow a colorful plant food diet full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals that nurture the microbiome in a way that acts as an energy-enhancing anti-inflammatory means of withstanding caffeine withdrawal. By blocking anti-inflammatory markers, cleaning up our diet may prevent the post-meal fatigue that impels us to seek caffeine in the first place. And the benefits of including a rainbow of fruits and veggies in your diet are boundless: one of my favorite ways to start is with the five-a-day mix!
“Furthermore, adding herbs and spices to the diet enhances the body’s ability to carry on energetically. I love following my recipe for Dr. Uma’s Turmeric Latte! Turmeric, with a pinch of black pepper (this makes the active compounds in turmeric much more bioavailable) whether enjoyed as a beverage or with vegetable dishes, has been shown to be an incredibly effective means of reducing inflammation and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“Also, remember to remain well hydrated simply with water to keep your body and brain in balance.
“It goes without saying that helping the body and mind as we transition off of caffeine can be a process that requires gentle support. If large volumes of caffeine were what got you through the day, remember that what goes up must come down—accompanied by fatigue. Giving your body a consistent schedule with nourishing meals, prioritizing sleep, exercise, and mindfulness, and actively reducing stress may be crucial to gaining back your own natural, vital energy.”
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