Healthy Insights

The Power of Less Caffeine and More B-12 May 01 2018

Chances are that if you’re 9-to-5 grindin’, you’re doing another type of grindin’ -- coffee bean grindin’, that is! Statistics suggest that as many as 83% of adult Americans drink coffee, which is no wonder. Whether sipped from a foam Dunkin Donuts’ cup or from an exorbitantly frothy almond-hazelnut-tiramisu-mocha concoction, all coffee has that the same magic ingredient: caffeine.

Ah, caffeine. Sweet, precious, life-giving caffeine; on some days, it truly is an elixir, akin a special button that we can press to instantly put ourselves into “GO” mode.

Unfortunately, like most good things in life, caffeine has its darker side. All of us have experienced some of the nastier side effects: the slack-jawed 3PM slump, the pounding headache, an irregular heartbeat, lingering anxiety and general restlessness.

YIKES, huh? That doesn’t even include the long-term consequences, which includes all sorts of fun things – depression, insomnia, inconsistent blood pressure, addiction, to name a few.

DOUBLE YIKES. Alas, you might read the above paragraph and think to yourself “Hmm, maybe I should start drinking less coffee,” but let’s face it – once 8AM hits on Monday morning, we’re all in the same boat. All bets are off, and whoever stands between us and the closest Starbucks is a dead man, cue finger-across-the-throat motion here.

Usually a tea drinker, lately, I found myself opting for coffee with alarming frequency. Not just in the morning either, but often for an afternoon boost and even sometimes in the evening. Although, yes, it definitely helped me power through some absurdly long workdays, I was starting to notice the impact. Some mornings, I would wake up more exhausted than when I’d gone to bed. Other days, I would shake my knees incessantly during phone calls and meetings, jittery and unable to focus. Nights occasionally found me lying awake in bed, staring at the ceiling and cursing the black devil’s brew.

As with most things in life, I turned to the almighty Google searching for answers and alternatives. The thing that came up consistently as another option to the almighty joe: vitamin B12.

Vitamin B12 is found naturally in various animal-based foods, including eggs, fish, meat and dairy. It’s essential to the workings of your nervous system and brain activity, helps process glucose, and regulates your natural circadian rhythms, all accounting for increased levels of energy and alertness.

Nevertheless, the Internet has deceived and betrayed me countless times, so, to corroborate, I decided to a short trial run replacing my daily caffeine intake with a vitamin B12 supplement. Here’s how it went:

Day 1

I wake up around 8AM after around 6 1/2 hours of sleep. I sit down at my laptop to work about an hour later, still bleary-eyed, and take my first vitamin B12 supplement with a light breakfast.

Within about 45 minutes, I feel better. Unlike coffee’s instantaneous jolt, vitamin B12 provides a subtler, sustained feeling. I don’t really notice any influence on productivity, but the elevated alertness and clarity is taking the front seat here – I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for a good four to five hours.

Afterwards, I’m not drained, like I would be with caffeine. I’m back to a baseline “normal” and can finish up the workday without the need for any additional boost. I sleep soundly around midnight.

Day 2

I open my eyes earlier than usual, at around 6AM. After a brief debate (Bed! So comfy!) I decide I’m awake enough to go about my day, despite the ungodly hour. (Turns out Vitamin B12 also aids in releasing melatonin and increases sensitivity to light, which accounts for both a restful sleep and natural awakening!)

I take the supplement around 8AM. The results are similar to the first day, a nice, clear-headed buzz. This time, I also notice that my mood is more upbeat, although I do find myself feeling slightly more antsy than yesterday. Regardless, I feel good and power through without any other negative side effects.

Day 3

Much like the previous day, I sleep like a rock and greet the day without any of the usual histrionic wailings (suffice to say, I’m not a morning person). There’s not much new to report in terms of the third day – once again,I take the B12 between 8-9AM and enjoy its effects for several hours.

With that said, it does feel slightly shorter in duration, and by mid-afternoon I start craving a nice steaming mug of green tea. I mean, what better way to celebrate my three-day sabbatical from caffeine, right? Right?! OK, OK... I continue in my saint-like abstinence and ride it out until the following morning.

The next day, I mull over my experiment with a well-deserved cup of tea. I won’t lie – it is nice to get some caffeine flowing through the veins. But it’s comforting to know that it isn’t an outright necessity and can be regaled to a pleasant morning ritual. Although nowhere near the intensity of, say, a double espresso shot, the effects of a vitamin B12 supplement provide adequate energy to give a nice bounce and flow to the day, without having to deal with a mid-day crash.

Of course, results may vary. In researching, we found out some people actually get sleepier in response to vitamin B12 and obviously, a three-day stint isn’t enough to fully measure the effects of long-term intake. If you’re a 5-cups-a-day type, you also may be prone to traditional caffeine withdrawal symptoms, which can be brutal… like “I’m going to shank everyone on the cell block” brutal. Do research on the appropriate dosage and gauge your moods and body as you wean yourself.

I’m not giving up my daily cuppa just yet, but vitamin B12’s effects on my mood and productivity is a good enough reason for me to incorporate it regularly into my diet, whether as a supplement or replacement for caffeine. Coupled with other lifestyle tweaks (getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, staying hydrated), one day, hey, one day, a completely caffeine-free lifestyle might be within reach. Until then, as all things, enjoy in moderation and in wellness.