Boosting your Immunity Tip #1: Caffeine and Energy Drinks

boosting immunity

My first challenge for you in this series of tips for reducing your toxic load and boosting your immunity may seem  downright impossible if you’re as much of a caffeine addict as I’ve been in the past.  The tip is simple:   reduce and eliminate (as soon as possible) all caffeine drinks and energy drinks.  That includes 5-hour energy drinks and any other drink purported to boost your energy levels but may be harmful to your adrenals, particularly if you already have the symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

There are far better articles and medical studies on the sins of caffeine and boosters, but what I offer here is my personal experience as someone recovering from adrenal burnout, as diagnosed by my physician, a specialist in hormone imbalances.   One of the harsher faults I’ve found with caffeine and energy drinks is that they hinder the normal detoxification process of the body–mine, at least.  Sure, I’d been warned that caffeine was bad for me, but I’d been addicted since I was a teenager, and though I’d quit it at times, a stressful career brought it back to my life in a vicious cycle.  I needed to be alert in early morning meetings and that meant drinking a Coke or Pepsi with breakfast (I’m not a coffee drinker).  That usually meant another soft drink with lunch or with dinner or both, and maybe even one at mid morning and mid afternoon to get me through a lull in energy.   Later, even if my last caffeine intake had been at 6 PM for dinner, I would find–especially as I got older– that I could not sleep until after 1 AM, and yet I still had to be awake and functioning when the sun rose.  For days when I had a big project or activity and couldn’t seem to summon the energy, I would pop the cap off a 5-Hour Energy drink, down the whole thing, and gogogo for the next five hours.

In those days, I didn’t consider my caffeine intake to be a problem.   After all, I had friends who downed six or eight Monster energy drinks in a day, in spite of the warning labels, or nursed six cups of strong coffee between sunrise and noon just to get a report finished and out the door.  In fact, I really didn’t realize how much caffeine I drank until a cardiologist asked me.

In the summer of 2007, I was 45, working out regularly, eating the traditionally balanced meal  (meaning with gluten), and supplementing with caffeine to “keep me awake.”  I was sleeping only four to five hours a night and I was super productive during the day–thanks to, um, a few, um, boosts.   One day in the office, about an hour or so after a lunch that had included a tall glass of Pepsi and possible a refill, my pulse began to race.   My heart felt funny in my chest, and I couldn’t seem to get enough oxygen.  Work was going well, it wasn’t a particularly stressful day, and I had otherwise been feeling fine.   At least…what I knew as fine.

The situation scared me, though.   Sure, most people having breathing problems would be a little bit unnerved but as someone who was buried alive in a cave-in as a small child, not being able to breathe is scary in ways that you can’t imagine.   The incident passed quickly though.  And so did the next one later in the week.  And the next one.   All about the same time of day and after a similar lunch, which I noted only in hindsight.

The last time lasted a lot longer.   I sat quietly, heaving for breath on the floor of my office, waiting for someone to return from meetings to take me to the ER.  I was too distressed to call out for help.  When the incident passed, I was still alone, but I got up and made an appointment immediately with my family doctor, who saw me that day.  Alarmed, the staff ran all sorts of tests and scans and hooked me up to a monitor for the next 24 hours.   When the cardiologist arrived, he told me they’d found nothing wrong with my heart, even though I had come in complaining of most of the symptoms of heart failure.

When he asked me if I was, by any chance, addicted to caffeine or an over consumer, I shrugged it off and told him no, in what I thought was a truthful answer.

When he asked me to recall what I’d had to drink throughout the last few days, I realized that I never had fewer than three full sized caffeinated  soft drinks in a day, and often as many as six.  He suggested I do a simple experiment since he couldn’t find the cause of my problems.  “No caffeine drinks for the next three days,” he told me. “Just three days.”

When I returned a few days later, I’d had no more problems with breathlessness, heart palpitations, or a racing pulse.  Not only that, but I felt like my body had been rebooted.  I suddenly had energy and felt so much better.  I could also fall asleep faster at night.

“That’s because,” the cardiologist told me, “you’ve been poisoning your system with caffeine.”

I recalled then something  my gynecologist had said to me a few months before when he’d found a lump under my arm that turned out to be nothing after several tests except, as he told me, “Your body is having trouble detoxing.  If you’re drinking a lot of caffeine, stop it. ”  He went on to explain that he often saw benign cysts come and go in his patients who were caffeine addicts.  He was right on target with me.  I was seeing benign cysts on all my mammograms.

With all the chemicals in our environment and food, I figured that the load on the liver, which filters toxins from the things we put into and on our bodies, needs all the help it can get.   If the liver breaks down and filters out the bad stuff and caffeine hinders that process, then reducing or eliminating caffeine–not to mention all the other unpronounceable stuff found in soft drinks–and then substituting water every time we’d normally have a caffeine drink or energy drink will help to keep that filter clean for when we really need it and give us a healthier immune system.  That’s a bit basic, I know,  but it’s the essence of the medical advice I’ve been given by multiple physicians.

Here’s another little bonus I found, unrelated to health.   For all those business lunches and dinners out, I noticed something different almost immediately.  The first time a server brought me my check, I did a double take.  I had always ordered  the same thing at this particular restaurant, but the bill was  a solid $5 less than usual.  That soft drink with a refill, tax, and tip  added significantly to the bill I’d been paying.  I didn’t realize how much it added up until a friend of mine in the restaurant business mentioned that a glass of tea might cost the restaurant as little as three cents but he could charge me $2 to $3 for a glass with refills.

So that’s your challenge this week:  reduce or eliminate caffeine and energy drinks from your diet and replace them with water.   If you can’t go cold turkey, then replace only the caffeine you drink with meals to start.

Be sure to come back next week and tell me how you did!