Healthy Solutions to the Caffeine Trap
by Hyla Cass, M.D.

The effects of coffee are more potent than those of caffeine alone, since it contains two other stimulants: theophylline and theobromine. These weaker versions of caffeine remain in decaffeinated coffee, making it less than a stimulant-free substitute.

Caffeine works by mimicking or triggering the release of the three primary neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain: dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline. These chemicals make us feel alert, motivated and cheerful. Let's take a look at your response to a cup of coffee:

For the first 30-60 minutes, you feel stimulated and more alert, focused, and motivated. Your mood may improve, and your memory may seem a bit sharper. You might also begin to feel a bit jittery. Then, in an hour or two, as the caffeine is slowly inactivated, you might notice yourself feeling foggy-brained and drowsy, or even irritable. You will likely be craving another cup of coffee. So the vicious cycle of withdrawal, craving and addiction begins. Soon one cup of regular coffee won't do it for you, either: you need a double espresso for the same effect! This response, common to all addictive substances, is called "tolerance."

Some proven health hazards of caffeine include: Overstimulation of the nervous system, leading to irritability, insomnia, rapid and irregular heartbeats and an increased risk of heart attack; elevated blood pressure (hypertension); elevated blood-sugar and cholesterol levels; heartburn and other gastrointestinal problems; fibrocystic breast lumps; diuresis (excessive urination), which can lead to dehydration; increased risk of birth defects if used during pregnancy.

Coffee contains tars, phenols and other carcinogens, as well as traces of pesticides and toxic chemicals used in the growing and extraction processes. At best, we can say that coffee has minor short term mental and emotional benefits, but they are not sustained. There’s a wide variety of natural substances that supply the immediate boost of coffee without the negative side-effects; In fact, they produce more energy and balance neurotransmitters in the brain:

B vitamins such as B5 (pantothenic acid), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine) and folic acid are natural energizers, essential for the formation of neurotransmitters, and also help your body cope with the effects of stress.

DL-phenylalanine (DPLA): an amino acid, and precursor for tyrosine, which converts dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. It not only enhances mood and promotes energy, but also relieves pain and controls appetite, at 500 mg 1-3 times daily.

Tyrosine: This amino acid enhances mood, energy and motivation. A precursor to the stimulating neurotransmitters dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline and the thyroid hormone, thyroxine, it has been used by the military to improve mental and physical performance under stress. Dose is 500 mg 1-3 times daily.

Rhodiola root. Grown in the Arctic regions of Siberia, this herb is known to improve concentration, stress resistance, physical performance and even mood. Dose is 100 mg 23 times daily.

TMG or trimethylglycine enhances neurotransmitter activity and improves energy, mental clarity, and mood. Dose is 250-500 mg once or twice daily.

Coenzyme Q10: stimulates cellular production of energy, is a good antioxidant, enhances energy and endurance. Dose is 30-60 mg once or twice daily.

Siberian ginseng (eleutherococcus senticosus) supports the adrenal glands, increases energy, physical performance and mental endurance and restores vitality over time at doses of 60 mg twice daily.

Ashwaganda both energizes and calms, while enhancing libido, memory and cognition. Dose is 300 mg 2-3 times a day.

Licorice improves adrenal function, making you feel more vital and motivated at doses of 500 mg twice daily.

Reishi mushrooms stabilize adrenal hormones, both calms and energizes, and sharpens mental function at doses of 1,000 mg 1-3 times daily.

There are specific products such as Energy Formula by Better Balance that combine these nutrients in the correct proportions to give you the "zip" without the "dip." See www.betterbalance.com for more information, or call 888-246-4416.

Hyla Cass, M.D. is author of the new book, Natural Highs: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/BodyTechniques to Help You Feel Good All the Time (Penguin Putnam; 2003), available at bookstores or at http://www.cassmd.com, where you will also find top tips for optimum functioning. The Energy formula can be found on www.betterbalance.com, or by calling 888-246-4416.