Simply Tea-Lightful! Going Caffeine-Free, With Herbal Teas
Teas and herbal infusions have been used for their health benefits for almost 5000 years. Legend tells us that tea was invented by Chinese Emperor Shennong in 2700BC, when a tea leaf drifted into his pot of hot water by accident.
He went on to discover over 365 medicinal plants, many of which were treatments for various illnesses or poison antidotes, leading him to be nicknamed the ‘God of Chinese Herbal Medicine’. This tradition was continued by the Ancient Greeks; with Dioscorides expanding the list of medicinal herbs to over 600.
Why Go Caffeine-Free?
Reduced Anxiety Levels
Caffeine could be contributing to your nervous jitters. The reason many of us use caffeine is for an increase in energy; however, the way that caffeine achieves this is by stimulating the Parasympathetic Nervous System, or the ‘Fight-Or-Flight’ part of the brain.
This therefore leads to increased anxiety levels, agitation, heart palpitations, or even panic attacks.
If you are predisposed to anxiety or depression, you should especially monitor your caffeine intake. Caffeine has also been linked to increased chances of developing depression, eating disorders and, of course, sleeping difficulties.
This brings us to the issue of sleep. Caffeine is classified as an adenosine receptor antagonist. Adenosine is a natural compound found in the body, which makes you feel tired when you need sleep. Caffeine blocks the receptors for this chemical, thereby preventing the brain from receiving the signals to ‘go to sleep’.
This leads to difficulties falling asleep, but may also delay your body clock in other ways, leading to difficulties waking up the next morning and reducing sleep time overall. One study found that consuming caffeine 6 hours before bed may reduce sleep time for up to an hour.
Caffeine may also impact upon the quality of your sleep, by decreasing the amount of time spent in deep sleep and increasing the amount of REM dreaming. This could be causing your sleep efficiency to drop from around 90% to just 74%.
Definitely not worth the brew before bed!
Hormone and Mood Balance
A 2012 study showed that drinking 2 cups of coffee had a significant effect on women’s oestrogen levels. Excess oestrogen can lead to a whole range of conditions including endometriosis, breast cancers, ovarian cancers.
Another negative side-effect of caffeine, is that it has also been shown to increase levels of cortisol (the ‘stress’) hormone and adrenaline in the blood, leading to increased anxiety, irritability or agitation, and mood swings in both sexes.
Caffeine withdrawals may also have similar effects to withdrawals from other types of drugs, such as alcohol or cocaine. Upon cutting-out caffeine you may notice you have shaking hands, get headaches, or experience labile moods.
Better Nutrient Absorption
Caffeine can reduce the absorption of calcium, iron, B-vitamins and other micronutrients. This is especially important if you follow a restricted diet, or if you are older in age.
Reduced Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure, one of the top recommendations from the NHS is to cut down on your caffeine. Drinking 4 cups of coffee a day has been shown to increase your blood pressure and your risk of heart disease.
Cutting down on caffeine may also have a whole range of other benefits, from whiter teeth to better ageing. So why not try swapping your caffeinated tea for one of the herbal options below?
Teas Which Please
Redbush or Rooibos – For High Blood Pressure
Redbush tea, or Rooibos (roy-bosh), is a great alternative to caffeinated tea for new herbal drinkers. It tastes similar to an English Breakfast tea, except lighter, with a subtle smoky aftertaste, and it is a little sweeter, which also makes it useful for reducing sugar intake.
Redbush tea has a number of benefits; it is oxalic acid free, which means it does not contribute to kidney stones like regular tea and coffee. It also contains antispasmodic agents, which may help to ease digestive issues, is high in antioxidants, which help to fight cancers, increase your immune system, and reduce ageing, and benefits your skin and hair with its high alpha hydroxyl acid, zinc, copper, and potassium levels.
If you have asthma and/or allegeries, redbush may be especially helpful as it acts as a bronchodilator, easing respiratory difficulties. Its phenolic content and anti-inflammatory properties may also help with skin conditions such as eczema.
You can drink it with milk, if you want something similar to your usual morning brew, or have it with lemon for a more refreshing summertime drink.
Valerian Tea – For Anxiety and Insomnia
Valerian contains a number of compounds known to reduce anxiety and enhance sleep, including isovaleric acid, valerenic acid, and antioxidants.
In particular, valerenic acid has been shown to inhibit the breakdown of gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) compounds in the brain. Low GABA levels are associated with increased levels of anxiety and chronic stress. By delaying the breakdown of GABA in the brain, valerian may work in a similar way to benzodiazepines such as diazepam and alprazolam. The antioxidants hesperidin and linarin have also been shown to have sedative and sleep enhancing effects.
Valerian is one of the main components of herbal sleep aid Sominex, so if you have ever taken a herbal sleep aid, you have likely already tried it. For best results, combine with other sedative teas; chamomile, passiflora (passionflower), and lavender are good choices. If you are on psychiatric medications (particularly MAOIs), consult with a doctor before taking this tea.
Lemon and Ginger or Peppermint – For Digestive Difficulties
If you suffer from IBS, feel unwell, or have simply eaten too much, both of these teas help to soothe any digestive issues that may be troubling you. Lemon and ginger and peppermint teas are known to relieve nausea, reduce bloating, and soothe pain, including menstrual cramps. Lemon and ginger tea may also be useful for easing morning sickness in pregnancy.
Lemongrass – A Brew For The Blues
Lemongrass is known in traditional and herbal medicine to be an anxiolytic, and is also commonly used in aromatherapy settings to treat stress and anxiety. To make a mood-boosting tea, combine lemongrass with peeled chopped ginger, saffron (increases transmission of serotonin in the brain), and turmeric (boosts both serotonin and dopamine production).
There are many other herbal teas out there whatever your mood, so instead of making a bee-line for the Earl Grey next time you’re thirsty, why not try something new, and boost your health while you’re at it?
Article by Caterquip