Coffee heat rising

An attack of asceticism

{sigh} Decided to kick the caffeine habit for awhile and so now have a fine caffeine deprivation anemia headache. Today being only the second day of this moment of ascetic virtue, I expect another day or two of migrainish crabbiness.

Once when I went off the killer brew, the headache lasted an entire week! Dang. Hope this goes away sooner than that. I’m allergic to aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen, so headaches and other minor pains are experiences to be…well, appreciated. LOL! As in “it feels so good when it stops.”

Normally, a cup or two of regular tea will dull or even kill the pain. Tea has less caffeine than coffee (heh…at least, the way I brew coffee, the result of which will melt a teaspoon left in the cup any length of time), and so it works for backing off the much stronger coffee. After a day or two, I can drop the caffeinated beverages altogether with no further effects.

Just to perfect my misery, I also decided to get off the sauce for awhile. I usually have one or two glasses of wine or beer a day. Probably two is too much, and two is the normal dose around here. Problem is, I tend to slip over that threshold with wine: an open bottle is too easy to tip over into a glass, especially  if you haven’t finished your meal and you think, “Oh well, a tiny swiggle more won’t hurt.” Several tiny swiggles more and you’ve consumed half a bottle of the stuff! Because I have to get up, walk across the room, retrieve a new bottle of beer from the refrigerator, and open it, I’ll invariably stop after two or even one: the minor effort of having to move around and flip off a top is enough to signal that enough beer is enough.

The immediate cause of this frenzy of self-deprivation was yesterday’s conversation with La Maya. She’s determined to go on a diet, and she remarked that a mutual friend has lost a lot of weight but is drinking again and so seems to be gaining it back. I’d like to say our friend is more of a lush than I, but as a practical matter a half-bottle of wine is about a half-bottle too much. So we won’t be calling her kettle black.

Also lately I’ve been having a lot of heart palpitations, diagnosed as “stress attacks” by the worthies at the Mayo. These can be pretty scary, because they cause lightheadedness that at times makes me feel like I’m going to pass out. One of these occurred the other day while I was riding down a long escalator, which was a bit alarming. More often they happen when I’m driving at a high rate of speed on some road where there’s no place to pull over. So far they haven’t caused an actual faint, but I suppose there’s always a first time. Whether there’s a connection between these episodes and the coffee or the wine, I don’t know.

But I do know that sometimes the body seems to get saturated with caffeine, resulting in an overall sense of angst and jitteriness. That’s when it’s time to get off the bean. And I suspect there’s a connection between early-in-the-day caffeine and night-time insomnia. Even though my coffee consumption ends by about ten in the morning, older people metabolize drugs (which is what caffeine is) more slowly than younger ones. So it makes sense that the stuff could build up in your system over time and begin to affect you over a 24-hour period.

Interestingly, opinions are mixed about the real harm or benefits either of my favorite potables cause. We’re told by the worthy authors of Wikipedia that

Coffee consumption has been shown to have minimal or no impact, positive or negative, on cancer development; however, researchers involved in an ongoing 22-year study by the Harvard School of Public Health state that “the overall balance of risks and benefits [of coffee consumption] are on the side of benefits.” Other studies suggest coffee consumption reduces the risk of being affected by Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, diabetes mellitus type 2, cirrhosis of the liver, and gout. A longitudinal study in 2009 showed that those who consumed a moderate amount of coffee or tea (3–5 cups per day) at midlife were less likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in late-life compared with those who drank little coffee or avoided it altogether.

Very nice. On the other hand, as we learn from the same source,

Coffee prepared using paper filters removes oily components called diterpenes that are present in unfiltered coffee. Two types of diterpenes are present in coffee: kahweol and cafestol, both of which have been associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease via elevation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels in blood. Metal filters, on the other hand, do not remove the oily components of coffee.

Yes. Well, I happen to favor French-press coffee, qui s’en fie de paper filters. I’m doomed!

As for wine, medical researchers apparently like the stuff, because they can’t bring themselves to condemn it wholeheartedly. Let’s get real here: it is, after all, booze. Nevertheless, we learn that

Population studies have observed a J curve association between wine consumption and the risk of heart disease. This means that heavy drinkers have an elevated risk, while moderate drinkers (at most two five-ounce servings of wine per day) have a lower risk than non-drinkers. Studies have also found that moderate consumption of other alcoholic beverages may be cardioprotective, although the association is considerably stronger for wine. Also, some studies have found increased health benefits for red wine over white wine, though other studies have found no difference. Red wine contains more polyphenols than white wine, and these are thought to be particularly protective against cardiovascular disease.

Hmh. I’ll drink to that.

Problem is, we’re never clearly told what “moderate” consumption is. The Brits would have us believe “moderate” means about a third of a small wine glass or half a pint of beer—a sip or two that, IMHO, would never last through a full meal. Five ounces, however, is a fair amount: almost half of one of my huge burgundy glasses. Here’s one of those monsters with five ounces of water measured into it:

Two swiggles of that much wine, and I’m cha-chaing around the kitchen. w00t!

The whole idea of depriving oneself of the minor pleasures of life in the name of some health or moral benefit has always struck me as dubious. Life is difficult, after all. One has few enough small joys (or large ones). Does it really make sense that taking away the small pleasures that make life worth living is going to make things better?

I doubt it.

However, experience has shown that long-term consumption of the type of Europeanized cowboy coffee I happen to favor will build up a state of tenseness and may contribute to the alleged “stress attacks.” Since I have nothing to be stressed over just now, it’s reasonable to run a test to see whether the caffeine has anything to do with that.

And the wine and beer? Well, like my friends, I certainly could stand to lose five or ten pounds. That beloved beer, in particular, is adding mostly empty calories. Now’s the time, while the weather is good, to be exercising, cutting calories, and running off some fat.

6 thoughts on “An attack of asceticism”

  1. I drink my coffee from a French press too . . . and entire pot each morning. Sometimes, I even have an espresso later in the day. As for wine, here in France we say 2 glasses a day. . .I tend to drink a little more than that.

    A couple of notes: last year my job situation was. . . less than ideal. . . and I had to quite coffee cold turkey because I too was having stress attacks. Now that I’m out of this job situation, I can drink coffee again. Yay!

    As for drinking and weight gain. I find that the correlation holds for me in the US, probably because I drink beer more often there and because the drinking occurs beyond meals. If I drink wine with a meal, I feel full and I eat less. If I go out for a beer with friends after dinner, I’ve already eaten. . .I *think* this explains why I don’t get fat in France although I certainly drink more here . . .

  2. @ Simple in France: Interesting! Is it possible that you’re walking more than you would in the US? Many European cities lend themselves to walking, and of course if you’re using public transport you’re also probably walking to meet buses and trains.

    Yesterday, a perfectly gorgeous day, I got in my car to drive 15 blocks. I could easily have bicycled the distance, and walking wouldn’t have been out of the question. I didn’t ride my bicycle because I wasn’t sure the restaurant had anyplace where I could lock it down, and I didn’t walk because…why? The shoes I was wearing with my outfit didn’t lend themselves to walking and because I was too lazy. And I didn’t want to spend the time required to get there on foot.

    When we were in London, I would never have driven that distance, and I probably wouldn’t have bothered to take the bus. In San Francisco, I probably would have walked or, if it were handy, taken a trolley.

    I find I can go in and out of coffee drinking. After thoroughly wringing myself out and staying caffeine-free for a few weeks, I usually start back up and am fine for several months.

  3. De-lurking to chime in with sympathy. I love red wine. I love good coffee (yes, the spoon-melting variety). I occasionally get an ascetic urge to ditch one or both of these, but you know what, as you say above, life’s difficult enough. At least they’re both legal.

    Generally, I choose to listen selectively to the health advice about bean and grape. Coffee protects the blood-brain barrier; red wine keeps your heart in good nick. That is all ye know and all ye need to know.

    I’m loving your sage advice and your writing!

    • Welcome to the comments section, Kate! LOL! I pretty much agree with all that…especially about selective listening to pop-health advice. Truth to tell, though, the past two nights I’ve slept a lot better. I’m afraid the caffeine does wire me up. {sigh}

  4. I was laid off over a year ago. January 2 2009. I began to have awful palpitations within a few weeks. I went to my doctor who heard them through his sthescope and immediately sent me to a cardiologist. I wore a Holter monitor and fortunately the “spells” were captured for their review. I had a stress test and fortunately there is nothing wrong with my heart. It was stress. I was surprised! You would have thought I would have been grateful to get away the hell hole I called my career LOL! I did cut back on coffee a little during this time, but the morning two cups (I don’t drink it weak either) was all I normally have. I do drink tea occasionally but usually herbal. And I drank one to two glasses of wine or beer each day as well. I will tell you the thing that has made me slow down….because I do love my red wine…I am now 48 and I am beginning to have acid reflux. I find the wine and beer causes it along with bread of any kind. So I has lessened my consuption for this reason only. I still have the palpitations several times a week. I opened a company 9 months ago and it is doing well. I think I am very demanding of myself so the stress apparantly remains. The thing that is most frightening about the effects of stress is that it builds up in your system and the attacks can occur when you think you are at your most calm. Take care of try to relax. I know I am not exercising enough and joined the Y a few weeks ago. Now to make the time to go. : )

  5. My sympathies, Cathy! Stress attacks are extremely frightening! I spent an entire day in the ER while doctors kept an eye on me to be sure I wasn’t actually having a heart attack. My blood pressure was through the stratosphere, and every time I’d lift my head off the pillow, it would go up even higher!

    Regular mild exercise is apparently very useful. Yoga is also helpful. My friend La Maya is able to control acute episodes with breathing and relaxation exercises, and I will say that slow, controlled deep breathing sometimes seems to head off an attack. You can feel it coming on, almost like a migraine aura, and if you start the breathing the minute you realize something’s amiss, sometimes the episode is quite mild. It’s possible to breathe deeply and regularly through your nose, so you don’t make a spectacle of yourself in a meeting or while strolling through a department store.

    I think they’re related to hot flashes…there’s no question they have some sort of association with menopause. Both are cardiovascular events. Sometimes I get a hot flash at the same time as a stress attack.

    It would be interesting to know if there are any other food items that people suspect are related. I think it’s possible that caffeine may aggravate these episodes (cause them???). About the wine and beer, I just don’t know…wine seems to relax me significantly and make me feel better during these periods.

    But what about anything that we’re NOT eating enough of? For example, I’ve been snacking for the past several weeks and really not eating adequate servings of veggies and salad. Vitamin deficiency, maybe? Is anyone getting these damn things who also takes a multivitamin every day? If so, that would tend to let out lazy eating habits.

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