For the last few weeks, I’ve been revelling in the first days of fall. It’s like God’s breathed into the air, and the leaves have decided they’re getting tired of being green. The transition from summer to fall is magical. Unfortunately, the Arkansas autumn allergy season has hit me like a sledgehammer. Arkansas allergies are different from Nevada allergies, and I’ve taken more decongestant in the last two weeks than I have in the last year.
As I’m on the Worship Team at my church, these allergies can pose a great problem when it comes to singing. Because of this, I begged my husband to make me some coffee before church last Sunday, telling him it would help my voice for practice before church. Ever accomodating, my dear husband brewed us some coffee.
Honest to Betsy, I drank less than four ounces.
Yes, I know better.
No, I didn’t listen to that little voice in my head that said, “Remember, you’ve got to sit through an entire church service after this?!” Actually, I told that voice to kindly shut up. You see, coffee doesn’t always kick in immediately for me. Often, it takes a good half hour to an hour before it hits me full force. I’m not exactly sure why, but that’s how my body works.
But as soon as the church service started, great firing neurons, Batman, my brain was on warp speed! During the first half hour of the service, I’d considered 4 different church ministries I could help start or be involved in at our church, two or three new blog ideas I could write about, and I was intensely aware that my tics were on fast forward. And I felt great.
And then shaky.
And then came the crash.
In all honesty, I didn’t drink the coffee to get a thrill right before church on Sunday. (Although I’ll admit that sometimes I drink coffee just for the fun of it. What can I say? I’m a rebel.)
On that day, however, a hot cup of joe was simply the quickest way I could think of to clear my throat. As I sat in the pew that day, with my mind whizzing at ten times its normal speed, I decided to research the general affect caffeine has on other people with Tourette Syndrome. This is what I found.
According to the LIVESTRONG Foundation, it’s believed that Tourette’s is partly caused by an incorrect amount of the neurochemical Dopamine being delivered to the brain. LIVESTRONG’s article, “Tourette’s & Dopamine” says that brain scans of people with TS reveal, “certain parts of the brains of patients with Tourette’s show abnormalities in the transmission of dopamine.” The articles goes on to say that a 2008 study in Germany questioned 200 people with tics on how their consumption of caffeine affected their tics. Those questioned responded with 34% saying coffee worsened their tics, and 47% said the same about Coke.
The American College of Nutrition conducted a survey in 2003 of 1,794 people with tics, asking them what they thought most triggered their tics. According to the American Nutrition Association, caffiene came in second only to stress. (I can attest that these results would ring true in my life. Unfortunately, you can’t just choose not to have your daily cup of stress in the morning.)
In his book, World’s Strongest Librarian, Josh Hanagarne discusses his struggle with a severe case of Tourette’s. In his blog article, “Curing Tourette’s Syndrome Part 4 – Tics and Diet,” he puts caffiene as the first food on his list of foods that generally make his tics worse.
Pediatricts: Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics did a study to see if the widely reported change in tics due to caffeine ingestion in children was scientifically sound. They used two first cousins, and over the course of three years, recorded the observed tics and their relation to amounts of caffeine in the children’s food. They concluded that the consumption of caffeine did indeed have an effect on the children’s tics.
I think we can safely say that caffeine can make tics worse for people with tic disorders and Tourette’s Syndrome. For some people, abstaining from caffeine isn’t a problem. For others, however, caffeinated teas, coffee, and carbonated beverages are the forbidden fruit, and it just doesn’t seem fair that such delicacies can’t be theirs. So what can you do?
1.) Find substitution vices – Switch to non-caffeinated coffees or teas. While there is some caffeine still left in decaf coffee, the amount is much less potent. There comes a point when you have to decide if that morning cup of coffee is worth the tics it forces you to suffer for the rest of the day.
The whole point of morning coffee, for many people, is the experience, having something yummy to look forward to each morning. If you look forward to this experience, try finding a new treat to look forward to. Maybe it’s a favorite fruit that you usually wouldn’t normally spend the money on, like a mango or raspberries. If you think about it, that $3.50 you might spend at Starbucks every morning is exactly how much a box of raspberries costs at the grocery store. Plus, the natural sugars in the fruit will be much better for you than the sugars in a latte or frappuccino.
2.) Reserve caffeine for special occasions – I don’t have caffeine on a daily basis. I do, however, indulge on a few select occassions:
- When I have a head cold – The US Library of Medicine reported that a study was done to see if caffeine helped relieve the effects of the common cold. Apparently, caffeine boosts in colds can help clear the cloudy head feeling. (Although you’ll want to make sure you drink extra fluids to make up for the dehydrating quality of caffeine, which, according to Mayo Clinic, can exacerbate illness.)
- Days when I’m way too exhausted to make it through eight hours of working with children – Because I’m in a job where I’m constantly moving around, the expenditure of energy counterbalances the extra tics my coffee might cause. If you do this, you’ll want to make sure you have an outlet for your tics, in case the input of energy exceeds your need and expenditure.
- Days when I can do whatever I want – These are usually Saturdays. These are the days when I can do whatever I want with the energy inside me. While I try not to drink coffee right before exercising, I can spend the extra energy from the coffee by doing things like walking the mall or going on a major cleaning spree in my house. Basically, I need to make sure I won’t be sitting still for long periods of time. As much as I love writing, caffeine can even make it difficult for me to sit at my computer and do that.
Caffeine can be a hard thing to give up, especially if it’s something you’ve grown used to enjoying on a daily basis. If you feel like you might cave and know you shouldn’t, however, try to remember how you’ll feel after you’ve done the deed. If you truly struggle with tics, you know how difficult, and even painful the rest of the day can be if you don’t treat your body right. As all habits do, it’ll take time to wean yourself off of that daily dose of caffeine. Believe me though. It will be worth it. I can personally attest to that.
How does caffeine affect you? Please share in the comment box below. And don’t forget you can receive extra resources that I don’t include in my posts, and information on neurological disorders, education, and inspiration (as well as a thank you gift for subscribing!) if you sign up for my weekly newsletter