Adding back coffee – a little at a time.

Kim-Sutton-Positive-Productivity-Coffee-and-ComputerI’ve been “off” coffee for a couple of years now.

Well, not entirely off, but severely curtailed. I went from drinking 3-4 cups a day (starting with two big cups in the morning) to barely one cup a day.

I’d start with 1/3 cup of really strong coffee, and then I’d have another small cup of strong coffee in the afternoon — preferably no later than 2 p.m., because if I drank it later, it would throw off my sleep schedule, and then I couldn’t get to sleep.

And in between, I’d eat chocolate to keep myself going. Because… chocolate. Caffeine. Sugar. Other tasty anti-oxidants in there to pump up my flagging energy.

But I had to give it up. Chocolate. Especially coffee.

What would make me do such a thing as give up my regular flow of dark and lovely caffeine? Well, all those cups were contributing to migraines — constant headaches that rarely went away. I had a non-stop headache, it seemed, for years. And I didn’t even realize it could be any other way. I figured it was just how my life was going to be, for now and evermore.

Untrue.

When I was told by a neurologist that caffeine (which includes chocolate) can actually trigger migraines, it amazed me. Here, I’d thought they actually reduced headaches. That’s what I’d been told, anyway. But the science is there — with some kinds of migraines, caffeine can actually make things worse. And discontinuing can help.

That’s what happened with me.

But lately, I’ve been reintroducing a little more caffeine (and occasional chocolate) into my days, without too much adverse effect. I’ve been having slight headaches, but nowhere near the intense ones that used to be constant with me. And since I notice them more, now, than when they were non-stop, those headaches are a good signpost for when (and how) I need to make different choices and do things differently.

Just the other day, someone had left some candy on the counter near the coffee maker at work. It was a kind I used to really love. Couldn’t get enough of it. I was able to walk past both the coffee maker and the candy all morning, but in the afternoon, as I was making my 1:30 p.m. 1/2 cup of espresso, I nabbed a few pieces and ate them slowly.

Sweet. On so many levels.

And then I drank my 1/2 cup of coffee. And I had another 1/2 cup a few hours later. No immediate headache. At least, not that I could tell.

I’ve been drinking a little more coffee, nowadays… and while I have developed low-level headaches (I have one right now), they’re not so awful that I can’t function. I’m keeping an eye on it, but so far, so good.

And the other good news is that with my regular daily exercise and eating a really healthy diet, I have been able to get to sleep, even if I have a little caffeine after 2 p.m. Sometimes I’ll have some at 4:00, and I’ll still be able to get to sleep. I think it’s because I’m really actively living my life. I’m “all in”, each and every day, and I also usually finish up the day with stretching and relaxing before I go to sleep.

That last bit — stretching my back and legs before I tuck in for the night — has actually done me a world of good. If I don’t stretch, I often find myself waking up at 3 a.m. in pain, and I can’t get back to sleep.

So, stretching before sleep is really helpful. As is relaxing before I turn off the light. Just consciously relaxing makes a huge difference. Until I learned how to do it (it didn’t come naturally), life was a whole lot harder than it needed to be.

Well, it’s Friday, and that’s a good thing. I’ve got a full weekend ahead of me, and I’m working from home today to get myself geared up. Relax a little bit. Tie up loose ends from the week. And get ready for what’s next.

It’s all good.

Onward.

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Until I got healthy fats in my diet, every improvement felt like a struggle

60-pct-fat-brainI’ve been thinking a lot about how things have changed for me and my TBI recovery, over the years. Thanksgiving is behind me, along with the anniversary of my fall in 2004. I’m now looking forward to 2016, looking back on my past and thinking about the future.

I have had some pretty amazing leaps forward, and now that I am in the process of finding a new neuropsychologist to work with, I am thinking a lot about where I am, relative to where I’ve been — and where I want to be. Truth be told, I have a long ways to go before I am where I really want to be. Maybe I’ll never get there. But I have my dreams. Likewise, I am so much farther along than I had been in the past. And the past year or so has seen a tremendous change in my mental state, my cognitive abilities, my resilience, and pretty much every aspect of my life. There are places where I am falling down and coming up short — memory issues, losing track of the big picture when all the details turn into many-headed hydras of problems, impulse control problems, and snapping at people (and internally) over nothing. But my ability to identify these things and deal with them is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was, just a few years back.

The thing is, at just about every turn in the road, even when I was making good progress, it felt like a struggle for me. Until the past year or so. Even when things have not been great for me, functionally, I’ve been more resilient, better able to handle the ups and downs, and I’ve learned. Lightning speed, compared to how I was before.

Coincidence? Just a fluke? Cumulative effects of good choices? I think nutrition changes have actually made the lion’s share of the difference. I mean, when I look at my life now, compared to prior years, there’s just no contest.

Today someone actually asked me about a ketogenic diet. I had toyed with the idea of that, some time back, thinking it would be helpful for me to “fine tune” my system and break my “addiction” to carbs and junk food. That was all very well and good, but it turned out to be a huge amount of work for me — I would have had to turn into a full-on zealot convert, to succeed. Plus, it turns out that the benefits can take a while to kick in. No thank you. I need to see results fairly quickly, or it just doesn’t keep my attention.

My bad, I know, but at least I know myself.

What I did do, however, is add healthy fats to my diet. The low-fat diet I was following was good, according to popular perception, but the more I read about the benefits of healthy fat — and thought about it too — the more sense it made to get some fatty goodness in my life.

And boy, am I glad I did!  If there is one thing I did that really tipped the scales in my favor, I believe it’s adding healthy fats to my diet. This is something my neuropsych would never tell me (because they’re not a nutritionist or doctor, so they don’t feel qualified to recommend these things – which is a shame). I had to find it out for myself. But if you think about it, it makes sense. We need protein and fats and good nutrition to keep our bodies nourished. A starving body has a hard time healing, and since saturated fat is one of the main components of brain (which is 60% fat, as it is), if you don’t have enough of the right kinds of fats, the brain just isn’t going to function at its peak.

I believe that’s what was happening to me over the years, and I suspect that’s what really delayed my recovery. Ten years seems like too long a time to recover from the fall I had — I know I have had a bunch of head traumas over the course of my life, but falling down a flight of stairs and hitting the back of my head doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that should nearly kill me and wreck my life for years on end.

I can’t help but wonder how things might have been, had I gotten more healthy fats in my system at the start. The brain, like any organism, needs help to heal. And by keeping my diet low-fat, I believe I was prolonging my recovery.

Not anymore.

If there’s one thing a person can do to help themself after a TBI/concussion, it’s get more healthy fats in their diet. Put a glob of Kerry Gold grass-fed butter in your coffee, instead of cream. Eat fish with high fat content — deep-water / cold water fish, especially — and foods with the good stuff, like avocados.

Drink your water. Get your exercise. Get plenty of sleep. Avoid stress.

And support your system with healthy fats, so your brain can heal faster and better.

Here’s a link to a site that gives you more information: http://greatist.com/eat/healthy-fats-best-foods-for-brain-health

Don’t be like me. There’s better information available, now. Give your brain what it needs to heal. Hopefully, you won’t have to be as patient as I have been, for as long as it’s been.

Onward.

Long day today – will Ruckpack help?

This caught my attention, the second time around

I re-watched an old Shark Tank episode where a Marine (former Special Ops) was pitching his energy drink Ruckpack.

One of the big selling points for him was the caffeine-free formula that did not produce jitters.

When I first saw it, I didn’t need a caffeine-free solution for my own personal energy crises. But now I do. Based on what the Marine said, this might be just what I’m needing.

I found a store that carries Ruckpack, and I picked up a couple of bottles (the caffeine-free mix), just to see. Today is a long day – I started at 6:00 a.m. with a support call for work, and I will be going till10:00 tonight, at least. I have meetings all day – booked solid from 9:00 a.m. till 4:00, when I need to drive an hour to my neuropsych for my weekly appointment. Along the way, I need to run some errands. And then I have a networking meeting in the evening.

So, I will need some extra help today, most likely.

I’m going to try Ruckpack to see how it works. If what they say is correct, that it provides steady energy and nutrients “for every battle”, and it does so without caffeine, then this might be something I can actually use.

I’m going to wait till later this afternoon to try it. I’ll report back.

If it works for me, it might work for other folks struggling with mental fogginess / TBI / headache / migraines, who have to steer clear of caffeine, as well.

Let the experiment begin.

Getting Off Coffee Day 7 — Going better than expected

Can I replace this drug with something else? Should I?

I’m about a week into drastically cutting back on my coffee. I didn’t keep notes on when I started cutting back. I just did it. I think I’m a week in… though it could be 10 days but let’s call it Day 7 to put a line in the sand and have something to compare it to.

It’s going pretty well. Better than expected, actually. Instead of having 2-1/2 cups each morning, I’m down to 1/2. I did that gradually, going from 2-1/2 cups to 2 cups to 1-1/2 cups to 1 cup, to 1/2 cup. I’ve been doing that most mornings. Some days I’ll shift back and have a full cup, but I’m actually feeling better with a half a cup, now.

I’ve also been putting butter and oil in it to ease the withdrawal, but today I’m doing 1/2 cup of straight coffee. Black. No sugar. It’s how I used to always drink it, and it’s fine.

I had a full cup yesterday morning, and I have to say, it actually felt like too much. I only needed 1/2 a cup, and contrary to every usual habit, I threw out the last few sips instead of drinking them down. That’s unlike me. Especially with coffee.

Now I’m looking at my half-drunk half-cup of coffee, wondering if I really need to finish it. There’s something a little invigorating about the withdrawal process. I’ve got a headache, but I usually do, so there’s no change there. And I’m cranky at times, but I know what that’s about, so it’s not too intrusive or disruptive. I just keep my mouth shut and let the freak-out pass. It eventually does.

And when I’m really feeling frayed, I have some fruit or a drink of water. The fructose soothes that savage beast, and since the fruit is full of fiber, the sugar shock is buffered. It’s not like having a spoonful of sugar or honey. There’s fiber in there to give my body something to do while getting that sweet boost.

I also hit the roads, going for long walks to get my system calmed down. I took two walks in the woods yesterday, and it was fantastic. I had a lot of energy, although I was in a bit of a fog. That will pass, I’m sure. I just have to give it time and retrain my body to wake the heck up.

So, the whole thing about getting off coffee is a lot less odious than I thought it would be. I’m probably still going to have my 1/2 cup in the mornings. Or not, if I don’t need it. And I’m probably still going to use a shot in the early afternoons at work, to keep myself from falling apart in the afternoons. Ideally, I’ll find another way to wake myself up — get some exercise, perhaps? But there’s nothing like a shot of caffeine around 1 p.m. to carry me through.

So, I may or may not give it up entirely. Plus, supposedly there are benefits to coffee… they’ve done research (though I wonder how many coffee-abstainers worked on the studies). Who knows? All I know is, my neuro is telling me to get rid of it, so I may need to do that.

I’m well on my way. We’ll see how this goes.

Onward.

Getting off coffee – as quickly as I can

Say it isn’t so

So, my new neuro encouraged me to get off coffee to help my migraines.

Oh, great wailing and gnashing of teeth!!! How can anyone expect me to do away with coffee?! It’s ridiculous. Why would I do away with my last real vice (aside from super-dark chocolate)? It’s the only thing that helps my mood and thinking when I’m dragging — which is a lot — generally within 4 hours of waking up and living my full-tilt-boogie life.

I scoffed at the very thought of it. Give up coffee. Yeah, right. Not gonna happen.

Why would anyone ask me to do such a thing — especially for headaches? I always thought that caffeine helped headaches, since so many headache medicines (including “Migraine formula” versions) have caffeine in them.But apparently, it’s the other way around. It doesn’t help. It hurts.

Here’s how I understand things now, based on what I’ve learned in the past 48 hours.

I found an article over at Lifehacker.com What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain and it was kind of sobering for me.

I’ll quote from the article:

Right off the bat, it’s worth stating again: the human brain, and caffeine, are nowhere near totally understood and easily explained by modern science. That said, there is a consensus on how a compound found all over nature, caffeine, affects the mind.

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

Every moment that you’re awake, the neurons in your brain are firing away. As those neurons fire, they produce adenosine as a byproduct, but adenosine is far from excrement. Your nervous system is actively monitoring adenosine levels through receptors. Normally, when adenosine levels reach a certain point in your brain and spinal cord, your body will start nudging you toward sleep, or at least taking it easy. There are actually a few different adenosine receptors throughout the body, but the one caffeine seems to interact with most directly is the A1 receptor. More on that later.

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

Enter caffeine. It occurs in all kinds of plants, and chemical relatives of caffeine are found in your own body. But taken in substantial amounts—the semi-standard 100mg that comes from a strong eight-ounce coffee, for instance—it functions as a supremely talented adenosine impersonator. It heads right for the adenosine receptors in your system and, because of its similarities to adenosine, it’s accepted by your body as the real thing and gets into the receptors.

Update: Commenter dangermou5e reminds us of web comic The Oatmeal’s take on adenosine and caffeine. It’s concise:

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain

More important than just fitting in, though, caffeine actually binds to those receptors in efficient fashion, but doesn’t activate them—they’re plugged up by caffeine’s unique shape and chemical makeup. With those receptors blocked, the brain’s own stimulants, dopamine and glutamate, can do their work more freely—”Like taking the chaperones out of a high school dance,” Braun writes in an email. In the book, he ultimately likens caffeine’s powers to “putting a block of wood under one of the brain’s primary brake pedals.”

It’s an apt metaphor, because it spells out that caffeine very clearly doesn’t press the “gas” on your brain, and that it only blocks a “primary” brake. There are other compounds and receptors that have an effect on what your energy levels feel like—GABA, for example—but caffeine is a crude way of preventing your brain from bringing things to a halt.

So, basically, it’s keeping my body from putting the brakes on, disguising fatigue from the receptors that are built to realize when there’s a bunch of adenosine in my system.

That can’t be good, if I’m running out of steam and genuinely need to rest. Basically, it sounds like caffeine is tricking my body into picking up speed, when it should be doing just the opposite.

I kept reading… and when I Googled “coffee neurotoxin”, I came across this article: Coffee, caffeine, performance and you.

I quote again:

Caffeine is neurotoxin alkaloid. It stops insects eating plants. It works by being a very similar shape to adenosine, a nucleotide which is very important in energy transfer and neurotransmission. Adenosine inhibits nerve firing because it prevents the release of excitatory neurochemicals such as serotonin and acetylcholine.

The structure of caffeine as elucidated by Hermann Emil Fischer.

Caffeine settles into the adenosine receptors in the surface of neurons and in doing so, prevents adenosine itself from getting in there. Therefore no receptor activation can occur and the effect is just the opposite. With no adenosine in place to tranquilise the nerve, excitory neurochemicals will be released. Blood vessels constrict in your head and neck, the rate of nerve firing increases, your blood pressure and heart rate may rise and you experience a renewed interest and vigour when it comes to your Excel document.

Your higher cognitive function is now improved. Even what you can see is enhanced. The stimulation of nerves which use acetylcholine to send their messages affects a variety of areas in the body and brain. The visual cortex is one such area and drinking coffee causes an enhancement in our ability to process the shape, colour and location of visual objects.

 So, here’s this neurotoxin getting into my system, pumping me up and cranking out those neurochemicals. It might not seem like such a bad thing, but I’ve also heard that part of the excitory activity actually comes from the body’s defense response to a perceived threat from the caffeine, which some have called a natural pesticide. So, my system is getting a dose of pesticide and going into fight-flight mode to defend itself from this threat I’m introducing on purpose, which then makes me feel like I’m doing better, when it’s really the adrenaline that’s coursing through my veins that’s telling me that.

I don’t actually become better. I just feel like I am.

So, here’s what I take from this whole little 48-hour research investigation of mine:

Caffeine is bad stuff — especially if you have issues with fatigue and TBI. I mean, seriously, when I’m fatigued, I need to rest and recuperate, not push myself through like I always do. That fries my system and makes sure I’m in a persistent state of fight-flight. I know for a fact that that’s no good — it makes it difficult to learn and use higher cognitive functions. And the longer and more intensely I use caffeine, the more I’m stressing my system and whacking it out and jeopardizing my recovery.

In TBI recovery, you need to rebuild connections in your brain and re-learn things your system has (in)conveniently forgotten. Fight-flight marination in adrenaline impairs learning. So, if TBI recovery is dependent on learning, then coffee, tea, caffeine, even chocolate, are all a threat to my successful progress.

I had no idea.

It would have helped, had my neuro actually explained all this to me in a way I could understand. But it really took a passionate raw-food vegetarian fruitarian Australian dude living(?) in Thailand to make it clear. Here’s his expose that started turning things around for me:

Anyway, there it is. More to come on this, but for now,  it’s time to seriously cut out the caffeine.

 

TBI Energy Hack – A different kind of coffee

I tried it – I loved it

Yesterday, while I was fasting, I was pondering how much it sucks to be tired all the time and how I want to change my life but tend to run out of steam.

A lot of different things come to mind when I’m fasting (I’ll go without food for 18-20 hours, once a month or so, to “reboot” my system, give my metabolism a break from processing food, and help me increase my self-control. I was feeling pretty good all morning, then around noon I started to fade big-time (probably also because I was overtired), and I needed a little boost.

So naturally I started surfing around the web for ideas about how other people handle intermittent fasting. I came across information on “Bulletproof® Coffee” which is a special blend of high-quality coffee with a couple of unexpected ingredients that are supposed to enhance your brain function, give you more energy, and support your system – especially if you’re doing intermittent fasting.

I read up on it a bit over at Bulletproof Exec, and it made sense to me. Add a few unlikely ingredients to your morning coffee, and you can give yourself a much-needed boost that won’t fry your system like straight coffee does.

Those ingredients:

  • Butter from grass-fed cows. A big hunk of it.
  • MCT Oil (some folks use coconut oil, but you have to be careful you don’t get kinds that may have mold in them from the coconut pressing process).

You take the butter and the oil and you blend it together with two cups of coffee. You can use an electric blender or you can use a hand blender.

Reading up on how the fat in the butter and MCT oil supports your brain function, I was pretty intrigued. Plus, grass-fed butter and oil aren’t pharmaceuticals. They’re naturally occurring (well, the MCT oil is synthesized from coconut oil, but it’s not a concoction that originates only in a lab), and they work with your system, instead of overriding it. Plus, they’re freely available without a prescription.

I happened to be going food shopping last night, and I have some coconut oil in the cupboard, so I picked up some unsalted Kerrygold butter (grass-fed — it’s in tiny print on the label, so I had to look for it). And I prepared myself for a slightly different coffee experience this morning.

I sorta kinda followed the instructions — I don’t have “high quality” coffee in the house yet — I ordered some off the guy’s site, and I’m looking forward to getting it soon. I used only about a tablespoon of butter and coconut oil, not the globs of stuff the Bulletproof guy suggests. I also couldn’t use the electric blender, because that would have woken up my spouse, which is never a good idea — it’s best not to poke a sleeping bear. But I made do with what I had.

I tossed a little blob of butter and some coconut oil in a small metal mixing bowl, sat it in a larger pan of hot water to let it melt, then I made my coffee (which I always brew with a drip filter using brown paper filters anyway). Then I poured my first cup of coffee in with the butter and oil in the mixing bowl and got out my trusty hand blender. I mixed up the butter and oil with the coffee until it was well blended and there was a little froth on top. Then I filled my one coffee mug as far as it could go, and poured the leftover mixture into the second cup of coffee I had waiting. I wanted to try it in different strengths, just in case I hated one. I didn’t want to waste two perfectly good cups of coffee.

I usually make two cups of coffee in the morning anyway, so it wasn’t a change in the volume for me. I wasn’t in danger of getting wired. I must admit I was skeptical about this actually working for me. I wasn’t sure it was worth the extra effort, but I coordinated the Bulletproof coffee prep with frying up my morning egg, and by the time the egg was done, the coffee was ready, too.

Now, I’ve been a hardcore black-and-bitter coffee drinker for years. I cut out milk and sugar about 6 years ago, and I haven’t looked back since. So, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this new concoction. Putting butter and oil in coffee? Who does such a thing?! I was also concerned about the drink getting cold and turning into a fatty glob that I couldn’t get down. Sometimes I get caught up in my work before I finish my coffee, and both the butter and the coconut oil are not cheap, so I didn’t want to waste them.

However, I was really pleasantly surprised by the effect. It didn’t taste bad, actually. It was pretty good. In fact, my body really seemed to crave it. I had a hard time waiting for it to cool, actually. I kept wanting to drink it. I got a pretty good kick from it. Maybe it was the reading I’d done that suggested I’d feel sharper from this stuff, that made me feel… well, sharper. But whatever – I did. I got this real boost of energy that was nothing like I’d known in quite some time. It was this steady flow of energy — not like rocket fuel Red Bull.

And you know what? 2-1/2 hours later, I still feel really great. All through. Not just my head, but my whole body.

Verdict after Day One with Bulletproof® Coffee?  Holy smokes. This is really good. I haven’t felt this with-it in the morning for a really long time, and mornings are the sharpest time of the day for me (which says a lot about how pitiful my afternoons and evenings are). They’re also the time when I need to be the most “on”. So, this new approach to coffee, with grass-fed butter and coconut/MCT oil is a keeper.

This one is a “go”, for sure. I’m doing it again tomorrow.  And I’ll keep doing it, till it stops doing what it does.

Onward.