Many of us need a late-afternoon energy boost, but it’s increasingly clear that caffeine is not the answer. Ingesting coffee and energy drinks, not to mention the other chemicals they contain, leaves us feeling anxious instead of calm, hypercaffeinated instead of clear.
And, when we try to sleep at night, the caffeine lingering in our bodies gets in the way. It’s an old problem. But science is showing the way to a new solution: stimulating the body’s own nervous system to provide a natural energy boost without any of the frustrating side effects.
Caffeine is addictive
Our addiction to caffeine is both concerning and costly. Most people rely on coffee and other caffeinated beverages to feel awake and focused, but hypercaffeinating produces “anxiety, jitters, and brain fog,” according to reformed caffeine addict John Fawkes.
Over time, the daily consumption of caffeine can reduce the chances of developing certain cancers and also Type II Diabetes. Yet study after study shows that caffeine use also makes it harder to get a restful night’s sleep. Consuming a mid-afternoon caffeine-based pick-me-up can make it hard to drift off to sleep when you’d like, can wake you up midway through the night, and can diminish the quality of the sleep you do manage to get. Rather than awakening refreshed, you enter the day feeling muddy and tired.
Like many mind-altering substances, caffeine quickly creates physical dependence, People who try to scale back or quit can suffer headaches, nausea, depression, lack of mental clarity and other withdrawal symptoms, researchers have found.
That has been the experience of many of us who try to lay off the bean. As Fawkes put it, “I’ve quit caffeine a few times, but it was always brutally painful and difficult, at least at first.”
What about Red Bull?
That’s another bad idea, according to a growing body of scientific research, which shows that “energy drinks” like Red Bull, Monster Energy and Rockstar are little more than new ways to inject unhealthy amounts of caffeine into your system.
Given their popularity, particularly among teenagers, scientists and health officials are sounding the alarm about risks that, in extreme cases, can include rapid heart rate, seizures, strokes and sudden death, according to the journal Undark.
A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that energy drinks raised blood pressure and altered the heart activity of otherwise healthy young people who drank them. According to the U.S. government, emergency room visits involving energy drinks more than doubled between 2007 and 2011.
Health threats represented by the drinks led researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to warn of the need for greater government oversight. According to a review the researchers published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, “If caffeine had not been accepted as a flavor enhancer, but had been regarded as a psychoactive ingredient, soft drinks might have been regulated by the FDA as drugs.”
Use the nervous system for a natural energy boost
There is a real need for a caffeine-free energy boost, but using any known substance analogous to caffeine only worsens the situation. Any healthy alternative is likely going to come from fields like bioelectronic medicine, where stimulating the body’s own nervous system is the strategy to create new, effective therapies.
In fact, healthcare researchers and providers working on health woes ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to heart malfunction and chronic pain have increasingly found success with bioelectronic devices that deliver safe doses of electrical stimulation to the body’s autonomic nervous system. Bioelectronic stimulation has proven effective at easing pain, reducing stress and improving athletic performance — replacing medications and other chemical substances with a remedy that is natural, non-addictive and free of side effects.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the use of electrical stimulation to improve health dates to the ancient Egyptians, who learned that mild jolts from electric fish could ease pain. In recent decades, people have found safe and effective pain relief from transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) devices, which deliver low-voltage electricity to block pain from traveling through the nervous system to the brain.
Success with neurostimulation techniques has encouraged the development of other applications, including using bioelectronic stimulation to provide caffeine-free — and side-effect-free — natural energy boosts.
Move ahead with healthy alternatives
Given the health issues created by overconsumption of caffeine, more public and private research dollars should be invested in developing healthy, natural and addiction-free caffeine substitutes.
Such research would build on the growing body of knowledge being developed by clinicians, researchers and even the U.S. military into bioelectronic alternatives to traditional, chemical-based treatments for medical woes.
The potential impact is staggering. Preventing disease has always been the best way to improve quality of life and health. Imagine the impact of using the nervous system as a caffeine-free alternative to energize. We are more than ready for innovations like these to set us free from a total dependence on one substance.