If you decide to experiment with eliminating caffeine, you’ll quickly discover it’s addictive. Other than the morning fatigue, which can often be reduced with a shower and some vigorous exercise, and the sluggish bowels, which can often be stimulated by another hot drink (although not always as effectively), the main withdrawal symptom is a headache. This usually announces itself as a dull, heavy pain, but it can take the form of a severe tension headache or migraine, beginning 16 to 36 hours after the last cup (depending on the habitual level of consumption) and lasting two to three days.
For those who wish to persist in the cold-turkey approach to self-decaffeination, the homeopathic remedy nux vomica 30c taken nightly for three to seven days may help, especially if the first dose is taken the night before mounting your first assault on the habit. Ease Plus, an herbal remedy based on a traditional Chinese formula, invigorates the liver and digestive system while calming the nervous system — all of which may make the transition easier.
Patience also helps, and if worst comes to worst, so may an ounce or two of the offending brew itself. If an abrupt halt seems too radical, a gradual transition may be more palatable, although it will require persistence. Eliminate a cup from your daily quota, stay at that level until you are comfortable, and then eliminate another cup. You can also gradually make the brew less concentrated either by diluting it with water or milk or by substituting black tea. Another trick is to eliminate the sweetener before you begin to eliminate the coffee, especially if you’ve been using sugar. Caffeine and sugar seem to be a particularly habit-forming combination.
Dropping caffeine from your life is like changing any habit — the best approach is to make the smallest change possible that still gets the job done: keep the rituals, change only what’s in the cup. Decaf may help in the transition, although if you really want to pursue this, herbal tea, a roasted grain beverage, or hot water mixed with fresh lemon juice and honey are preferable.
Pat Klein, R.Ph., is a pharmacist who has been working in holistic health care for over 25 years.