I Stopped Caffeine and Avoided Surgery

I don’t remember the first cup of coffee I drank, do you? Usually, the reaction of your first cup is to love it (because there is lots of milk, chocolate, or sugar added) or hate it (because it was served black).

I definitely remember drinking coffee while at Purdue University primarily because I was working at The Village Coffeehouse just off of campus. This is where I got into learning about how to make a great espresso and subsequently all the espresso related drinks.

I drank a lot of brewed coffee too. I would brew a whole pot, add sugar syrup and steamed milk, and store it in a huge thermos style pot – you know the ones where you can pump out a cup at a time – yeah, I would sit down with one of those and study. Ready-made latte.

I don’t remember any specific adverse effects of drinking so much coffee. I was constantly tired in class, I would fall asleep, even if I was sitting in the front row. But that’s normal for college life, right? Looking back perhaps I was caught in that vicious cycle of drinking coffee too late, not sleeping well then needing more coffee in the morning to keep going.

As I got older I continued to work in coffeehouses even after university, in all, I worked at 4 different independent coffeehouses from 1998-2005. Only one is still open but even that one has changed ownership. Once I started working in my ‘career’ job there was free coffee offered at work. So I drank, a lot. I would have a cup or two at home, then another 3-4 cups at work. This was typical American style brewed coffee, cups holding 16oz/500ml which is equal to about 200-300 mg of caffeine, depending on the roast. I was taking in upwards of 1000 mg of caffeine per day, for years.

I stopped drinking caffeine altogether only one time. It was a couple years ago after we went on a 4-day hike in the Maine wilderness. When we got back home I realized that while I’m still dependent on coffee I would always need to bring coffee with me on long hiking trips OR suffer through withdrawal either on the trail or some days before. I decided to see how long it would take for me to detox off caffeine and what my side effects were. Once I knew this data about myself, I could plan better in the future.

I went cold turkey and stopped drinking coffee, which was my primary source of caffeine. I came off coffee by substituting some mate and green teas. The first couple days were the worst with a low, nagging headache for about a day. My husband said I was particularly snappy at him and short-tempered in general during the first days. It really only took a couple of days to come out of the dependency (or so I thought). After a week with no coffee and proving to myself that I could do it easily (albeit with some pain) I decided I enjoyed coffee enough that I would continue to drink it.

My coffee habits have changed since moving to Europe almost 8 years ago. I don’t have an automatic drip coffee machine anymore. I have a Nespresso machine which produces (I think) better-tasting coffee but at smaller quantities, 4oz/115ml, but still contains about 100mg of caffeine per serving. I bought a pour-over coffee pot so I could make those American big cups of coffee without having my heart pump out of my chest, which is what happens when I try to make a big cup from my Nespresso pods. Lastly, I have a French press which I use now more for tea but in the past, this was the way I made my American style coffee.

What is the point of this article?

I’m going to get a bit personal now and a little off topic but I promise it will come back together.

On 5 December 2017, I had my annual gynecologist visit, gold star for me, it was my second annual visit in a row! I had been ignoring my annual visits since, forever. I know, bad Megan. Now I have found an awesome lady and I enjoy my visits as much as one can. My first visit with her (in 2016) she noticed that I had at least three fibroids in my uterus. This is not abnormal or dangerous at all but it can be uncomfortable or cause a heavier flow and some cramping. I visited again 3 months later to have them measured again to make sure they were not growing too quickly. They were growing slowly so no worries.

At my December 2017 visit, she noticed that the fibroids had all grown a bit and although still small if they kept growing at this rate they would be quite big in a couple years. She also noticed some other dark spot which looked like endometriosis but she couldn’t be sure without surgery. We discussed next steps, first, we would schedule another appointment for 3 months to check again the growth and the dark spot. At that point I would need to make a decision, do I get a hysterectomy and be done with the fibroids and any other potential uterus issues or keep my plumbing and deal with heavy periods and major cramps for another 10 years minimum.

I’m not one to jump a major surgery to remove parts of my body but I knew that I would someday probably need to have a hysterectomy since both my maternal grandmother and my mother had hysterectomies because of fibroids. I only discussed this with a few close friends, one of which already had a hysterectomy at age 34. I had pretty much made up my mind that I would go through with the surgery now when I’m younger versus when I’m older.

At lunch one day with a friend we were discussing these issues, as ladies do when she mentioned that her mother’s doctor recommended getting off all caffeine to combat fibroids. Say what? How on earth are these two things connected at all? So at lunch on 13 January 2018, I decided to stop drinking coffee or consuming caffeine in any form.

I informed my husband and he immediately was on board for the reasons but was not looking forward to a cranky Megan for the whole weekend. We started sans caffeine on a Friday, this is absolutely the best day to start! I had no plans for the weekend and basically slept my way through the first 2 days of caffeine detox. I didn’t have a major headache or crankiness this time but like I said, I was pretty comatose the whole time. I was really tired but just listened to what my body needed and slept.

How did I do it? I bought a lot of decaf Nespresso pods which arguably have some caffeine (0-10mg x 1-2 per day) but not nearly the quantity I was consuming before (100mg x 4-5 per day). I thought it was quite easy because I could still have a decaf when I wanted, but even that I cut down to just one in the morning and one after lunch (in Europe it’s so typical to have a coffee after lunch). After 6 weeks I stopped thinking about coffee altogether so I must have really broken the dependency. This time around I also avoided all caffeine in tea as well, sticking to peppermint tea mostly.

I can see now, the second time (and maybe last) that it takes some weeks to really get out from under the influence of caffeine. I see a marked difference in my attitude towards coffee, I used to actively think about it several times a day. I can only guess this is what a person who smokes might feel like, only at a greater urgency given nicotine is more addictive.

One week after quitting caffeine I had my period. I almost didn’t notice it was coming because I had absolutely no PMS symptoms. This blew my mind. I had been having increasingly worse cramps and back pain over the last few years which was leading me to make sure I had no meetings scheduled or other engagements which would be spoiled by my reproductive processes. This time NOTHING, seriously, not one cramp, no breast tenderness, not even a twinge of back pain.

Surely this had to be a fluke because there was no way that caffeine could have that much effect on my system. I watched and waited until the next month when aunt flow would visit again.

Five weeks after quitting caffeine I had my next period. Again, no cramps, no back pain, no PMS mood swings, nothing. Now I knew something had changed. It couldn’t be that two months in a row this phenomenon could happen and it simply is a coincidence. I was so excited to see what would happen on my next visit, would the fibroids have shrunk? Is that possible?

Well, shrink, no. But stop growing, YES!

I had my follow-up 13 weeks after my December visit, and 7 weeks after I stopped drinking caffeine. I told my doctor about my experiment and she was surprised by the effects. Then she measured my fibroids, they were all exactly the same size. No growth.

The fact that they stopped growing we can’t know for sure was because I stopped caffeine but I’m certainly not going to start drinking again just to see. Now she said the surgery was off the table. We will check again in 6 months to see if anything changes.

In the meantime, I will schedule a second opinion concerning the dark spot. Wish me luck!

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