When I was on vacation last week, I conducted a very un-scientific experiment on myself. I wanted to see what would happen if I went without alcohol or caffeine. To preface, I’m not a serious consumer of either, but I am consistent—1-2 alcoholic beverages a week on average and 1-2 cups of black tea a day on average. My decision to undertake this experiment was made in connection with one of my new year’s resolutions—to be healthier. The “to be healthier” goal is actually a bunch of smaller, more concrete goals that relate to my overall health, fitness, and personal maintenance in general.
I chose to focus some of my energy on considering the effects of caffeine and alcohol on my body because I believe that these two substances have some negative side effects (but also some positive ones!). The negatives (for me personally) include:
- If you drink caffeine regularly, you may already know the feeling of skipping your morning pick-me-up. For me, going even one day without caffeine will give me a headache. Why is this? Caffeine constricts our blood vessels and reduces blood flow. When caffeine is reduced, blood vessels widen, which can trigger a headache.
- Alcohol. We all know what a hangover is, even if we don’t have first-hand experience. Since school, I haven’t had too many real hangovers, however, even sometimes with only one glass of wine, I will still get a throbbing headache the next day.
- Both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, which means that they increase your need to…um…pass fluids. This can lead to dehydration if we are not careful. Dehydration can lead to headaches if we are not careful. For me, I know that the dehydrating effect of these substances contributes to my headache symptoms.
- Like I mentioned above, caffeine and alcohol are diuretics. For me, this means that I make frequent trips to the restroom during the workday and a few more trips when I opt for a glass of wine with dinner in the evening.
- Did you that caffeine inhibits the absorption of vitamins and minerals into the body? I suspected so much, when I increased my intake of vitamins (Airborne/ EmergenC type products) to prevent the onset of the common cold and simultaneously increased my caffeine intake so I would stay alert in my encroaching sickness. Drinking cups of black tea felt dehydrating and like I was not reaping any benefits of the vitamins. I did become curious about whether caffeine was the culprit and found some articles online to suggest that my suspicions were somewhat valid!
- Alcohol also impairs nutrient absorption—however, I’m sure this fact surprises exactly no one.
- We all know that caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep at night. That’s why we drink it though right—to stay awake? It’s a stimulant, that’s its job. Well, when consumed too close our bedtimes, caffeine can also make it harder to sleep well, i.e. it decreases our quality of sleep.
- Alcohol, a depressant, can make it super easy to fall asleep, however, it can also decrease the quality of our sleep.
In my life, caffeine and alcohol also have positive effects! For example, every morning, I really do look forward to my first cup of tea to begin the day. Caffeine routinely helps me through my long days, my tired days, and just any other regular day to be honest. Caffeine is also a social activity for me. There have been a number of times when I have used a coffee shop as the backdrop for a work meeting or social event. With alcohol, I frankly like the taste and the feeling. For me it was an acquired taste. When I first tried wine in college, I felt as if everyone in the world was just trying to prove something by effortlessly ingesting this punchy liquid. However, the taste has grown on me and I look forward to trying different varieties of wine and beer. I also enjoy how alcohol frees up some of my inhibitions, which would normally make me anxious in social situations. And, like caffeine, alcohol is also a good anchor for evening plans.
While my goal with my break from caffeine and alcohol is not meant to be permanent, I thought it was important for me to “reset” and see how my body feels without these substances. One thing that I have already learned from this experiment is that our bodies have minds of their own…. I did suffer from some withdrawal side effects and had some interesting realizations that I will elaborate on further tomorrow in part 2. Until then, Dear Reader, drink plenty of water; your body depends on it more than either caffeine or alcohol.