A Word Of Caution

Incredibly, it is now 2019. I've been blogging for over a decade, and my life has undergone many changes since I started. I've now reached middle age, and so I suppose there's no shame in blogging about middle-aged things. Perhaps you can benefit from reading this.

For most of my life, my blood pressure has been on the low side of the normal range. Regular readers will understand why that is: I'm an enthusiastic and borderline-obsessive fitness nut and distance runner. Imagine my surprise, then, when a routine medical checkup resulted in a reading of "State 2 hypertension," 140/90. That's high blood pressure.

Well, I thought, it's just one reading. Besides that, my blood sugar was high that day; it stands to reason that my blood pressure may have temporarily spiked. I wrote it off. Then, a couple of weeks back, I was at the pharmacy and got curious, so I strapped myself into one of those blood pressure kiosks and took another test. The result was the same. I took a few deep breaths, relaxed, and tried again. The result was confirmed again.

For a moment I started to worry. When otherwise-healthy people get hypertension, it's usually indicative of very serious health problems. When otherwise-healthy diabetics get hypertension, it usually means kidney failure. I admit it, I was scared.

My mind raced back to events from the past few months. What could cause sudden hypertension? What would have indicated kidney failure? The thing was, I felt perfectly fine. Still, there were some very odd things that had happened recently. The most jarring of those was this: One day my urine was an absolutely bizarre dark brown color. Upon seeing it, I frantically googled every conceivable health and medical website and deemed that I was either severely dehydrated, or indeed, I had kidney failure. I spent the next twenty-four hours drinking as much of every possible fluid as I could. I downed two cans of chicken broth, a pot of coffee, a liter of sparkling water, multiple cups of tea, and who knows -- possibly a gallon of water.

The next time I went to the bathroom, everything had returned to normal. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. I was fine. But, was I? Suddenly, a few weeks later, I had hypertension.

I decided to approach this new situation the same way as the other one. Rather than accept that I had kidney failure, I decided to make incremental changes to see what impact that would have. So I went from drinking about four cups of coffee per day (two with breakfast, and one or two during the workday at the office) to drinking a cup of tea for breakfast, and perhaps another in the evening. Basically, I eliminated caffeine from my diet almost entirely. I also reduced my alcohol intake.

The result of eliminating caffeine was that my blood pressure returned to normal within three days. Three days.

I never would have guessed that a coffee habit -- something that I've been maintaining for twenty years or more -- would cause high blood pressure suddenly. I figured if it ever happened, it would happen gradually if at all. So the first thing I'd like my readers to know is that caffeine can cause high blood pressure "all of a sudden," even if you've been drinking it for years. The second thing I'd like my readers to know is that your blood pressure will become completely normal again if you stop drinking caffeine.

Now a word on withdrawal. I've never been someone who was highly stimulated by caffeine. It never kept me up at night, and never gave me the jitters. I could drink one cup or eight cups and feel pretty much the same in all cases. In light of this, I was not expecting to experience withdrawal symptoms from quitting coffee. I was wrong. While I didn't get the headaches that other people report, I was overwhelmed by fatigue, which lasted about three days. I was falling asleep in the early afternoon while hard at work. I had to take two days off from exercising because my body wouldn't physically move. It was bearable, but unpleasant. I was so tired that I almost felt drunk.

I hate to admit it, but my body feels a lot better now. I do miss the taste of a great cup of coffee, but I'm tolerant of the decaf they give us at the office, and there is no way that I would trade the way I feel now for a cup of coffee. After years of believing that coffee was just a great-tasting way to enhance life, I've suddenly discovered that being uncaffeinated actually feels better. So, I'd like my readers to know that if you ever have the chance to stop drinking coffee, go for it. I think you might discover, like I did, that it feels good to be caffeine free.

I did drink a diet Coke yesterday. It didn't give me jitters, nor did it elevate my blood pressure. I think it's probably okay to drink one caffeinated beverage per day and still enjoy the benefits of being caffeine-free. As for me, I'll try to avoid it from now on.

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