Need to Curb Carb Cravings? Try Cutting the Coffee

05/29/2015 10:57 am ET | Updated May 29, 2016

If you find it easy to eat a healthy, balanced meal for breakfast, but carb cravings take over by dinner, research suggests your daily coffee habit may be to blame. While the thought of giving up your morning cup of coffee may seem daunting now, hopefully this article will shed light on the impact that caffeine in coffee is having on your adrenal glands and how that impact increases your cravings for carb-rich foods.


Understanding Your Adrenal Glands

Your adrenal glands are small, yet powerful organs positioned atop each kidney. When you encounter a stressful situation, your adrenal glands release potent hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that put your body on high alert and prepare it for fight or flight. Unfortunately for coffee lovers, the caffeine in coffee stimulates the adrenal glands in the same way that a stressful situation does. That means with each cup of coffee you consume, your body is getting ready for a fight that never comes. Over time, triggering the fight or flight response can lead to adrenal fatigue, particularly in women, which means your adrenal glands function below optimum level.

Researchers discovered evidence of this change in adrenal functioning during a 2005 study published in Psychosomatic Medicine. Healthy women and men who consumed caffeine on a daily basis throughout the study experienced significantly lower cortisol levels than those who consumed caffeine occasionally. While those results might lead you to conclude that coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to caffeine, researchers say it shows they actually weaken their adrenal glands' ability to respond to caffeine and secrete the proper level of hormones.

Coming Down From an Adrenaline High

When your adrenal glands are functioning properly and responding normally to caffeine stimulation, they release adrenaline that temporarily gives you a boost of energy. Once your body comes down from the adrenaline high, you are more likely to experience undesirable symptoms like fatigue, irritability, and even headaches. Those symptoms often prompt a craving for more caffeine, which in turn comes with a new craving for sugar. By lunch, you find yourself craving things like pizza, cookies, and more caffeinated beverages to counteract the fatigue and moodiness. If you give in to that lunchtime craving, a few hours later you will crash again and repeat the cycle at dinner.

Getting Off the Caffeine-Carb Roller Coaster

If that loop is all too familiar to you, you are likely aware that stopping cold turkey is extremely difficult -- even for the strongest of wills. You have to reset your adrenal and insulin functions before you can hope to successfully reduce both your caffeine and carb cravings. There are many ways you can naturally heal your adrenal glands and curb your carb cravings at the same time. Research suggests that boosting your intake of vitamin C, magnesium, and vitamin B5 can help treat adrenal fatigue. In their book The Adrenal Fatigue Solution, authors Fawne Hansen and naturopath Dr. Eric Wood also recommend including supplements like Omega-3 (reduces inflammation and the workload on the adrenals), D-Ribose (offers an energy-boosting alternative to caffeine), and the herbal supplement ashwagandha (helps to regulate the body's cortisol levels).

Practicing yoga can also help alleviate excess stress, which overtaxes the adrenal glands. Talk to your health care practitioner about ways you can treat adrenal insufficiency and wean yourself from caffeine dependency.

How Can You Be Sure Caffeine Is Disrupting Your Adrenal Glands?
The best way to tell if caffeine is having a negative impact on your adrenal functioning is to test the cortisol levels in your saliva at four different times throughout the day. The interval testing is necessary because cortisol has a diurnal variation, which means the levels of cortisol in the body fluctuate from high to low throughout the day. Plan B Medicare and certain health insurance plans cover saliva cortisol testing. Talk with your health care practitioner about your caffeine consumption and carb cravings if you think you might benefit from having your cortisol levels tested.

Is It Okay to Switch to Tea?

When people are looking to transition away from drinking coffee, they often ask if it is okay to drink tea. While it is true that tea has much lower caffeine levels than coffee, I still strongly advise against drinking tea until you eliminate your caffeine craving. Keep in mind that herbal teas have no caffeine.

Now that you have all the facts, before you pour your next cup of coffee, ask yourself if you really want to continue putting your health at risk by riding the caffeine-carb roller coaster.