Renegade Health Radio: 39 Living 100% Caffeine Free – Benefits and Withdrawal Symptoms

Monday Feb 16 | BY |
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In this episode:

We interview Sean Russell of the website Menprovement to talk about how long it takes to recover from caffeine addition, what are the benefits to being 100% caffeine free, and how to make the change.

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Frederic: Renegade Health Radio, this is Frederic Patenaude and today this is a Frederic Patenaude podcast because Kevin is not here. Well does that sound like I’m celebrating? No! I love doing the podcast with Kevin but he’s really busy. He just had a second child, two businesses to run, lots of things to do. So I’m going to be doing some of the podcasts in a different format and hopefully this is a format we can grow and evolve and bring Kevin into as well. So in this new format there will be a special guest and I know we haven’t had any or almost any special guests for Renegade Health Radio. We had a few people but I know this is something that is always interesting when I listen to other people to get different points of view and so on.

So my guest today is going to talk about caffeine withdrawal symptoms but in a completely different way than you may have heard. So this is not to say that everybody will feel the same way when you decide to get off caffeine if this is something you need to do. If you feel you need to do that but this is a point of view of the time it takes for your stress hormones to go down, those levels to go down, for your adrenals to reset, so to speak. I don’t like that word but for your adrenals to heal and for your body to heal and for your body to get used to a different level of stimulation and then bring its own natural energy. So for the past month I’ve been 100 percent caffeine free. Now in previous podcasts we’ve talked about tea and so on and I know I’m a very caffeine sensitive guy and that’s why I love caffeine so much. I think most people are very caffeine sensitive also love caffeine a lot because it’s a love hate relationship but it tends to work better initially. At first you feel amazing. I mean you feel like you’ve got the greatest high ever, so much energy. Most people who drink coffee, yeah, you know you like the taste, you feel a little buzz but if you’re particularly caffeine sensitive then the buzz is even better, right. You feel like you want to clean your entire house everyday and then it stops working the same way. And what I realize, and this is something I realized many times, is that yeah you can use some green tea, you can use some caffeine, if you’re caffeine sensitive, occasionally in order to stay awake that’s where caffeine works best to stay awake. You need to stay awake. There’s a reason for you that you need to stay awake and that is when using some caffeine is a good thing. It could be a good idea when falling asleep at that moment where you’re trying to stay awake is not a good thing.

So yeah caffeine, not everybody is so caffeine sensitive but if you are what tends to happen is sort of a pattern. The pattern is that you start drinking coffee or caffeinated beverages and for the first two weeks or three weeks or four weeks you feel kind of normal on caffeine. You feel the stimulation but you can pretty much everyday, yeah there’s a crash but you can drink caffeine the next day and feel back to your greatest self again but what tends to happen for caffeine sensitive individuals is that over time it seems like caffeine builds up in your system or the … maybe not caffeine itself although there are some studies to suggest that caffeine might build up and be eliminated more slowly in caffeine sensitive individuals. So over time the negative affects of caffeine become more pronounced than the positive affects and at some point you feel no positive affect except to avoid some of the withdrawal symptoms and you feel a lot of weird negative effects that a lot of people might not experience drinking caffeine and those could be things like not just not being able to sleep well but just feeling tired the next day even after you’ve had your coffee. Not feeling any stimulation any more from the coffee other than avoiding a headache or something like that and feeling irritated, feeling like a skin itch all the time after you’ve had caffeine that you feel for hours. So could this be an allergic reaction? Could caffeine be a substance that some people are actually allergic to or develop an allergy to? Is that possible? There’s not a lot of research on this but some people believe that’s the case. If Google caffeine allergy you will find some interesting information on this, not factual information, very anecdotal information but this is all we’ve got. Also some people tend to be more anxious. I call them the artist types you know because I’m that type of person. These are the people that tend to get overly excited about something in life. They tend to have a lot of creative energy but also downs. They tend to get depressed easily. You know most artists are kind of like that. They just have a rollercoaster of emotions. Some people are more stable and that’s good. It’s not to say that being one or the other is good or bad but it can be difficult if you’re that kind of person and I noticed that the artist type tends to be also more sensitive to substances in general, substances being drugs and alcohol and over eating and junk food and caffeine.

So my next guest is Sean Russell, author of the website MenProvement. So this is a website dedicated to improving the lives of guys dating, eating advise, fitness, stuff like that, self improvement and within that context I found an article that Sean wrote on caffeine. So I was specifically looking for caffeine related information and it’s very hard to find information on caffeine withdrawals beyond the first week or two and I was writing an article on the subject and I wanted to know if there was information on how long the adaptation to a caffeine free life can last. So how long it takes to get used to living, for your body specifically, to get used to living without caffeine. And we hear, yeah it takes about two weeks for your body to get over coffee or caffeine. But in my experience it can take longer than this. In the book, “Caffeine Blues” a great book that I recommend by the way on the subject of caffeine, the author talks about two months. So 60 days – you got to give yourself 60 days to evaluate how you’ll do without caffeine. So I hope that you enjoyed this interview that I did with Sean where we’re going to talk about anxiety, caffeine and withdrawals. Enjoy! So I have Sean Russell on the line. He’s the author of the website MenProvement and he recently posted or actually last year posted a very interesting article on caffeine withdrawals. I came across Sean website a few months ago when I searching for information on caffeine withdrawals and his article, I’m telling this to everybody, is incredible because it touches on something that is rarely talked about, which is how long caffeine withdrawals last. Not just the physical withdrawals but how the body adjusts to going from a diet loaded with caffeine to having no caffeine at all. So Sean, thank you so much for doing this today and joining the podcast.

Sean: Yeah it’s a pleasure to be here.

Frederic: Tell us what gave you the idea – well first of all to give up caffeine and then to write about it?

Sean: Well caffeine is an interesting subject because it affects everyone so differently and it’s so un-universal that I might sound crazy to a lot of people with some of the things that I say on here but to some people I really hit home and they might get a lot out of this but for me personally I was drinking a lot of caffeine throughout college and I was drinking it in pre-workout mixes with like 200 milligrams per scoop. I was drinking it in energy drinks when I was going out at night and I was drinking it to study and things like this. And I actually ended up developing an anxiety disorder. I don’t know if it was from the caffeine or through other areas and the caffeine just made everything a lot worse and my life became very stressful and I had a lot of issues and it wasn’t until I really thought about it and someone told me, “Hey caffeine really stimulates your nervous system a lot and if you have anxiety you shouldn’t be touching it.” Then I tried to go off and I was on it for years and trying to go off it wasn’t easy because everything I looked up said that I would be fine in two weeks and I would feel great and have my energy levels back but I actually felt worse for months actually before things got better. And it was such a peculiar experience that it was not really talked about much. I did find some articles on it for people who experienced the same thing so I decided to do my research and really learn about caffeine and what it does and how it affects you and I’m not by any means a caffeine hater or anything. I know it has a lot of health benefits for people but I can say 100 percent that there are many people our there who just don’t understand what it does to your body and if they are people who have anxiety disorders or problems with their nervous system they could probably benefit greatly by quitting caffeine. So I wrote this article and now it’s got five hundred comments on it. I have people emailing me every week who are going through a similar situation that I went through and it’s incredible to see these people – how much their suffering and then see them in four months and they’re fine again but it takes four months for some and some people it takes longer. It takes up to eight months to a year.

Frederic: I read in the book “Caffeine Blues” maybe you are aware of that book.
Sean: Yeah.

Frederic: Where it can take up to two months. I think that’s the number he gave for your body to adapt to the lower stress levels and just the lack of stimulation for your brain essentially to adapt but it’s I think having had that experience myself and having seen other people there’s not a specific number of weeks or months that you can say this is going to be for everybody, how long it takes for you to feel normal after giving up caffeine. And I think from reading pretty much all of your comments that you had under the article or browsing through them I think I found the same thing where some people felt a lot better in the first few days and some people took longer to feel better. Why do you think that’s so? Why do you think there’s such a wide range of reactions?

Sean: Yeah I definitely know that there is and yeah for the lucky people out there you can drink caffeine for 15 years and quit and you might feel better in a few weeks. You might not realize that you don’t feel 100 percent for a few months but like the “Caffeine Blues” book said it’s unrealistic to think that you can take a drug because at the base level caffeine is certainly a drug. It acts on your brain. It does all these things. It lowers levels of certain chemicals in your brain. So it’s the most widely accepted drug in our society and it’s unrealistic to think that you can take a drug four times a day for 20 years and then stop and feel good in two weeks. The science doesn’t add up. It doesn’t make any sense because our brains take time to recover and restore to their natural levels and it’s a lot longer than two weeks. But some people definitely feel okay after two weeks. And some people, they don’t. And some people feel better in a month. And some people, it takes a lot longer. And I think it has an effect – I think it all comes down to their sensitivity level. For me at that point in my life, I was hypersensitive to almost everything. I couldn’t take many supplements because I would react poorly to them and when I started to drink caffeine, I would react poorly to them. And a lot of people who come on the site, they’re the ones who are – many of them are suffering with an anxiety disorder. Many of them have gone through benzodiazepine withdrawal in the last two years. So their nervous systems are very sensitive and highly stimulated. And a lot of people might be suffering from adrenal fatigue. And that’s the modern 21st century disease now. And you could be working all the time, drinking 10 cups of coffee a day and you could find yourself with adrenal fatigue, which is not diagnosed at the doctor’s office. They’ll look at you like you’re crazy if you tell them you think you have adrenal fatigue but it’s a real syndrome and you can order tests to figure out if you have it. But I think a lot of these people that are on my site are similar to me because I think I had for sure a level of adrenal fatigue from my anxiety disorder, all the stress I was going through in school and the massive amounts of caffeine for years. So I think that the people who resonate with what I’m talking about are those people who are just highly sensitive to these stimulants or they’re suffering from adrenal fatigue. And it’s those people who take a while to recover because adrenal fatigue is whole other animal. It can take you two years to recover from adrenal fatigue but there’s a lot that you can do and you can certainly recover. And everyone who’s come on the site, there’s been people who have called me, like grown men have called me in tears because they just don’t know what to do. And they’ve never experienced anything like this and they go to the doctor and the doctor tells them they’re crazy. Here’s some medication, here’s Xanax, here’s Lexapro, which is the worst thing you could do because that’s going to destroy your nervous system even more. And then they come back in six months and they’re okay. And I see it over and over and over. And there’s always a new person who’s in hell like I was at one point and I tell them I’m like hey everyone comes in and they’re at the same place if they’re struggling and they all get better.

Frederic: So if going without caffeine can lead to pretty dramatic symptoms that we can talk about, what are the motivations? What are the benefits? What have you found and what have you found that people following the post and following the article have also found? What are the benefits once you’ve come out on the other hand?

Sean: Yeah. Well, all those people who are Googling Quitting Caffeine are most likely feeling negative symptoms from the caffeine. It’s not like they feel great on caffeine and then they decide to quit because they want to save money and they feel terrible. And the ones who feel great on caffeine and they quit, they’re the ones who feel fine in two weeks. But these people are the ones with anxiety disorders and highly stimulated nervous systems and adrenal fatigue. And that’s when caffeine begins to turn on you and it makes you feel horrible. So while you go off caffeine and you feel bad, these people are at a state where when they drink caffeine they can’t even function and I was in that state. So it’s kind of like a double edge sword. You just get to a point where your body is like I can’t drink this stuff anymore. So you have to quit. But then it takes your body a while to get back on track to where it was. So for the normal, average person with a non-sensitive nervous system and things like this, the benefits are still immense. I mean we’re not supposed to be relying on a stimulant to be energized all day. I’m 100 percent with people moving towards energy through relaxation rather than energy through stimulation. I personally, now that I am 100 percent even if I could drink caffeine again, I find I have far more energy levels than I ever did in my 20s when I was drinking it without any problems because there’s no ups and downs. There’re no highs and lows because when you’re drinking caffeine, there’s always going to be lows. And once you start drinking it, your body starts diminishing receptors in your brain because you have a chemical to do it for you. So when you stop drinking it, you need to drink more. That’s why caffeine is so addicting. That’s why you feel down when you’re not drinking it. So the people who are suffering while they’re drinking it, they feel better and they may have had an anxiety disorder for years while drinking caffeine and not realized that’s a major thing that is affecting them negatively and they stop and after six months, they may not have anxiety anymore. It’s that profound because you’re not stimulating your nervous system. You’re giving yourself a chance to heal. And normal people who are just working their jobs and drinking four cups of coffee a day and they don’t have the energy level they had when they were 20 years old, they can go off coffee and learn proper energizing techniques such as meditation and exercise and things. And this just gives you a far higher level of energy. And it’s more sustainable and there’s no crash and for me those are the main benefits. You can have an instant spike of energy with caffeine but I like the sustained, clean, constant energy all day long.

Frederic: You touched on something very interesting, which is that some people tend to be hypersensitive and I think those people are the ones that are attracted to alternative therapies, raw food diets, vegan diets and quitting caffeine eventually because you realize I got to make some changes. Some people can seem to kind of take on more abuse so to speak for longer. And then for some people like you said at some point everything breaks and you kind of have to change. You realize caffeine and other substances are turning on you. So they’re not working anymore. And caffeine, for most people, only seems to work for a few weeks in a sense that it really stimulates you. And then after that, drinking caffeine kind of just brings you back to your normal from feeling like crap to your normal but not feeling above your normal most of them time. So if you decide to go without caffeine, maybe go cold turkey, you described a process of four months or so in your article. So could you give us an idea of what you went through? And I think that also could apply to a lot of people that are more on the sensitive side. So from the first week that you give up caffeine through let’s say the first four months.

Sean: Yeah. I mean I don’t want to scare anybody because let me tell you I was going through a lot in my life at that time and I was on medications for anxiety and I went through some withdrawal from Benzodiazepines. So I was at a very fragile state at that point. And I actually ended up with chronic fatigue six months later. And I recovered from all of this, from going off of everything and eating a good diet and all this but this is not typical. But there are many people out there that might be listening like the people who comment who are going through the same thing as I went through. So this could possibly help them because a lot of people might go off caffeine and be, like I said, fine in two weeks. So I don’t want you to hear my story and then try to quit caffeine and have this mental affect on yourself and give yourself these symptoms. So don’t expect these but don’t be scared if you feel things like this. This is just my recovery was four months. I guess through the first week, I had just extreme fatigue. It almost feels like bad jetlag and I didn’t have much energy to do anything and concentration was very difficult and it kind of felt like I had a slight cold the whole week. And then month two – during month one as well, I started, I had a lot of depression and anxiety levels. They were higher than ever. And then month two, depression and anxiety went away but this is what a lot of people who resonate with my article agree with and say that the depression anxiety goes away but then your brain just kind of feels dull like life wasn’t exciting and everything felt bland and I didn’t have strong energy but I was in extreme fatigue. So you could say in month two I was livable. I wasn’t going through hell anymore like I was when I immediately went off it. But it’s just I guess my brain was just kind of fried at that point. My adrenal glands were really fried. So there was no light, no spark. But at month three, I started to get glimpses of feeling good and this is what happens with people. It’s also worth saying that at this point sleep began to get very deep. And I could see this because I see this in people commenting all the time. They start to notice they have a tough time in month one and then they say that they stop dreaming and they’re having ridiculously deep sleep for 12 hours and then they start to say they feel dull. And then they start to say I felt really good for three days and that it went away and I felt terrible for a week. So this is what happens. I started to get glimpses of feeling good and as time goes on, it’s not a linear process so you don’t feel great and then you’re good. You’re off the hook. It’s very un-linear. So you can feel great for a few days and then you might feel like crap and you get another wave of fatigue for a week. But then the next time you feel great, it will be a little bit longer. It will be like five days. And then the fatigue that comes back will be a little shorter. And this is how I find that pretty much everyone recovers. And until you’re feeling great for two weeks and you start to forget about the tiredness and everything and it’s kind of a natural process that you just start to live your life again. So by month four is when things started to really turn around and my foggy mind was about 80 percent clear and things started to seem bright again and I was excited to do stuff and was free of caffeine. And now I’m probably two years, more two years, free from caffeine. And I don’t take any stimulants. I eat amazingly. I juice every day. And my energy levels are incredible and I’m working on my business. I’m an entrepreneur. I run I work 12 hours a day right now on the computer. I work out and I’ve just got incredible energy levels. I don’t need caffeine. And it’s just clean and crisp. I can go to sleep on a drop of a dime and I wake up bright and energized. I’m ready to take on the day.

Frederic: That’s great, Sean. Thanks so much for describing this because like you said it’s not going to apply to every single person. I can see usually there are two types of people in regards to caffeine in general. The people that don’t know what we’re talking about, they’re like what. I drink coffee every day and I don’t have any problems. And then there are people that are trying to quit or have quit and they kind of a love hate relationship with coffee. And that’s usually a sign that it’s not working as well as you think. And I think this group is actually much more numerous than we think. And maybe you’re not in that group for a part of your life and then you become in that group. Just like in the book “Caffeine Blues” the author talked about you’ve got to give yourself two months to really evaluate if it’s worth for you to be caffeine free. And maybe, as you were saying Sean, maybe you should give yourself even longer to recover from stimulants. I mean we live in a world of stimulants where people expect us to be on all the time. So do you have any last words of advice for anybody thinking of quitting caffeine? And because I know you didn’t say coffee, you said caffeine.

Sean: Yeah.

Frederic: And it’s really I mean it applies to a lot of drinks and beverages that contain caffeine including green tea and black tea and coffee and energy drinks. So giving it all up including chocolate and all of these things, besides knowing that you’re going to feel better, do you have anything that you could share that has helped you or you found helped other people?

Sean: Yeah, well it’s funny you say about green tea and chocolate because I don’t know really where I stand on that because I’ve had chocolate plenty of times in the last year. And it hasn’t given me any negative side effects. And I don’t drink green tea but I know it’s fantastic for you. So I’m never going to tell anyone to not drink green tea. But it’s just this excess level of caffeine where people are drinking a thousand milligrams a day, five cups of Starbucks a day, that’s just when your nervous system and your adrenal glands are just not very happy with you. And again if caffeine doesn’t affect you negatively and you love it, then that’s fine. Caffeine has been proven in many studies to be beneficial to health in certain quantities and I’m not disputing that. But if you do have an anxiety disorder or you are struggling with stress levels, then caffeine is just like adding fuel to your negative fire. That’s all it’s going to do for you. It’s not going to help you whatsoever if you’re that type of person. And if you want to live in peace and in Zen and be meditating every day and feel calm and everything, it’s a long term investment and it’s a lifestyle decision. It’s not saying okay I’m going to quite caffeine for four months. I tell people decide if it’s not working for you now, it’s never going to work for you and say I’m going to quit caffeine for life and I’m just going to do whatever I need to do and in a year, I’m going to feel fine. And during these times, even if it’s just a week when I have a bad headache and I feel like crap, I’m just going to deal with it but this is a lifestyle change and it’s not just like a diet. So think of it as a long term investment and just look forward to sustained clean energy and a nice calm clarity and alertness in the future.

Frederic: That was Sean Russell from the website If you’d like to get to the article that we discussed, type in MenProvement M-E-N-P-R-O-V-E-M-E-N-T and the word Caffeine in Google and the first search result that comes up is this article. Thank you so much for being here today and trying out this new format. I hope that you enjoyed the interview. Kevin will be back next week. And I’ll talk to you soon.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


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  1. debra says:

    I used to get euphoric on coffee then have a huge crash in which the world literally seemed darker. A cup of coffee stayed in my system plenty long. I’ve since learned that one reason caffein may stay longer in some than others is liver congestion. If the liver is congested, the caffein will be eliminated more slowly – the person will stay wired longer.
    I’m mostly caffein-free, but do get a tiny bit every day. If I go for more (but still not much) I have worse resless legs (RLS) than would otherwise occur.

  2. Donna says:

    I am so thankful for this podcast because I am getting ready to quit coffee again. I am very sensitive to it and have a love/hate relationship too. I have tried to quit so many times but always go back after a month or two because I get bombarded with emails from Alternative Doctors talking about the healthy benefits of drinking this. I only drink 2 medium size cups of coffee but I do load it with half and half plus sugar. It doesn’t give me energy at all and makes me angry when I drink coffee. I am trying to follow the Blood Type Diet for O and coffee is one of my avoids. I just ordered food online today and they didn’t have my organic coffee I needed so I guess this is the time for me to quit. I have one box of black organic tea to finish up and then I will try to quit this again. I hope you aren’t against Yerba Mate because I ordered some from Dave Circle of Friends. When I quit coffee before I did substitute Yerba Mate and I didn’t suffer with the withdrawals that much and I will try it again. I love Tulsi Tea. I have the book “Caffeine Blues” and I wore my book out and need to replace it. This is a great website for people who think they might be allergic to coffee and it helped me before. I have many of the symptoms listed here.

    I get sick and tired of doctors who once were against coffee now say it is beneficial for you but only if you drink organic and black coffee. I hate black coffee and my blood sugar has been high and I want to give up dairy and sugar, another avoids for Blood Type Os. I also have Fibromyalgia and CFS and caffeine is bad for this according to Stephen Cherniske who wrote that book. I wonder too who is behind all the great benefits that coffee is suppose to help us with which doesn’t do my body any good at all. Could it be the coffee industry??? Now we have Dave Asprey who is big on the Bullet Coffee.

  3. Jason says:

    Thanks, Kevin…and also to Debra & Donna for your informative comments.

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