On Caffeine, Spelling, and Chemical Imbalances

On Caffeine, Spelling, and Chemical Imbalances(1)

I like to think I’m a pretty decent speller. After all, I did win the school spelling bee in fifth grade. #imkindofabigdeal

That said, I spell inspiration C-O-F-F-E-E. An alternative spelling, derived from the Old French, would be C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E. Synonym: motivation.

I feel like I can’t function without it. I also can’t function with it, because my body seems to hate it. #itsnotyouitsme

What’s a chocoholic to do?

I’ve loved chocolate pretty much my entire life, probably in utero. Coffee, not ’til high school. I was still dabbling in “cappuccino” (aka the purely-sugar-powdery-crap found in vending machines and gas stations) when I started college, but I soon moved on to the harder stuff. #gatewayjava

I spent my study time at the Beaner’s coffee shop (so culturally sensitive) by campus, so basically all day every day. #pharmlife I had a finely-honed system that involved plastic wrap, paper towels, and ziploc bags to protect my precious coffee from being wasted by soaking the notebooks in my backpack while I rode my bike uphill both ways to class.

That was the beginning of the “wired but tired” feeling I soon recognized as normal.

It didn’t occur to me to give up coffee until I started the Specific Carbohydrate Diet in 2010, my first foray into eating (and drinking) for gut health. Even then, I continued with it until I was pregnant and switched to decaf. I didn’t give it up altogether until my baby had colic/silent reflux and I finally pinpointed the problem foods: citrus, tomatoes, and caffeine.

Buh bye, coffee.

The boost it gave me paled in comparison to allowing my little one to sleep. And, in turn, allowing me to get a few hours of sleep for the first time in motherhood. Glory be!

I stayed away from coffee and chocolate for a few years. It wasn’t as impossible as I thought. Well, after the withdrawal migraines finally petered out…

I didn’t bother trying it after I had my second child. I knew better. Or I should have.

I tried coffee when he was maybe a year old? It had been a rough night (week, month, year…), and I remember standing in the backyard with a travel mug in my hand, feeling the warm bliss flood my body. #liquidheaven

And then his eczema was abysmal. Which means his sleep was abysmal. I stopped again. Not worth it.

My favorite coffee combo from times past–French press with hemp milk, collagen, and raw honey. Sniff.

Coffee has been a fickle friend. The one who says nice things to your face and gossips behind your back. You all know who I’m talking about, especially if you’re from a small town. #dontgetmestarted

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. After all, that’s what I do.

Many internet rabbit holes later, I was still confused. The theory that coffee could be cross-reactive with gluten seemed plausible. The possibility of gluten contamination in the roasting/flavoring/grinding/brewing process was likely. There’s also the issue of mold contamination to consider, as well as a reaction to even trace levels of caffeine in decaf.

Many potential mechanisms to explain one sad truth: Coffee doesn’t like me.

Why am I talking about this now?

Because I recently had a months-long love affair with chocolate. It’s a similar situation to coffee. I feel worse when I have it, but I do it anyway. Especially when I crave it. Which happens when I take methylated folate and B12.

The good news is that I have some answers as to why. And it’s not the line I used to parrot, “Chocolate cravings indicate low magnesium.” Sort of. It’s more complicated than that.

I won’t do a good job of fully explaining this, so if you want the nitty gritty details, check out methylation pathways (specifically the biopterin pathway) at Dr. Ben Lynch’s site.

Suffice it to say that the cravings weren’t “all in my head”, one of my biggest pet peeve phrases. After all, your brain is connected to the rest of your body, no?

Chocolate contains many neuroactive substances, including phenylalanine–a precursor to dopamine. In (cool) people like me with a propensity toward slow COMT and MAO, the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine are slowly metabolized. Supplemental methylated B vitamins can speed up the process and cause cravings for such precursors. Crazy, right?

From Dr. Ben’s super helpful genetic analysis program, Strategene

The more I learn about biochemical processes, SNPs, and how they translate into our experiences in real bodies, the more I believe in listening to and trusting my body. You’d think it would be the other way around, that the science would make me veer sharply toward only anything that can be scientifically validated in a lab.

Not so.

It’s somewhat entertaining to see ancient practices (such as meditation or food as medicine) become popular when their mechanisms are elucidated. Meditation is shown to affect energy metabolism and inflammation. An ancestral diet has shown impressive results in improving autoimmune disease. So on and so forth.

All this tells me is that I don’t need to wait for scientific proof to do what I already know is good for my body. I also don’t need to know the exact reasons why coffee is bad for me. I just know that it is. I don’t need the anxiety, the headaches, and the wired but tired feeling.

I’ve been off of any caffeine whatsoever for over a week. I feel a difference. In a good way.

But man, I miss my old friends coffee and chocolate every morning.

And evening. And, well, whenever I need a boost.

So long, old buddies.

Doesn’t it feel good to escape a toxic relationship?

-Lindsay, the Rogue Pharmacist

7 thoughts on “On Caffeine, Spelling, and Chemical Imbalances

  1. I feel your pain. I’m lactose intolerant, so no chocolate for me (I sometimes have a little dark chocolate with a super high cocoa % but, very little and once every couple of months or so MAYBE) and my live affair with coffee ended in tears and heartache after I was up to 2 pots of coffee a day and wound up with a bleeding ulcer… Buh-bye coffee…. I feel better without it… Sometimes. But, there are definitely times that I miss it. My ulcer doesn’t like my alcohol either… But, it already took coffee away from me! It needs to leave me SOMETHING!! 😉🍻


    1. I SO know that feeling!! I still have an occasional drink, and I seem to tolerate that way better than coffee. Maybe because it’s less of a habit? I do miss my java though. Sigh.


    1. I totally feel you there! Cutting down is hard, but cutting out is ROUGH. I figure I can do anything for a week, so I told myself it was only for one week. Then, I had to honestly evaluate how I felt. I was almost annoyed that I felt better. 😂

      Liked by 1 person

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