Organic fruits and vegetables

Organic fruits and vegetables
To Love Oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance. --Oscar Wilde

Thursday, April 2, 2015

So…What about Caffeine?

What would you like to drink?  The simple answer:  Water.  But things are never really that simple. In earlier posts, I discussed soft drinks and alcohol.  In this post let’s talk more about our favorite ingredient: caffeine.

What is caffeine?  The most widely used plant product in the world, caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. Virtually everyone has experienced its pharmacological effects. It is estimated that the amount of caffeine consumed daily is equivalent to one cup of coffee for every man, woman, and child on Earth. Besides coffee, caffeine is present in tea, cocoa, chocolates, maté, soft drinks, and numerous over-the-counter medications.  Read more here

Why do we like caffeine? Caffeine-containing products help us stay alert and awake. We have known this for thousands of years. The Chinese drank tea for improved mental abilities. The Aztec drank bitter cocoa water. In western medicine, caffeine and caffeinated beverages have been used to stimulate respiration.  Caffeine has also been used to treat apnea in infants.  Caffeine (and theophylline, a companion ingredient), are used as diuretics, for relieving symptoms of asthma, and treating symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Both are used to increase heart rate and blood flow and to stimulate cardiac muscle. The beneficial effects of these chemicals makes understanding them essential.   

Where does it come from? Scores of plant chemicals are contained in beverages brewed from coffee beans, cacao beans, or tea leaves. Of these, the ones that have thus far demonstrated the most pharmacological activity, are the alkaloids: caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine.  Caffeine is the most potent.  Plants synthesize these products to protect themselves from natural predators.  They are a type of natural insecticide.  

How much caffeine is in our favorite beverages?A typical cup of coffee contains approximately 100 mg of caffeine and maté about 85 mg. There is only 50 mg or so of caffeine in a cup of tea, and around 5 mg in a cup of cocoa. Theophylline is present in only trace amounts in coffee and cocoa, but in greater quantities than caffeine in teas. While there is very little theobromine in tea and coffee, up to 250 mg of this alkaloid are present in a cup of chocolate and some 40 mg in a cup of maté.” Soda has between 23-47 mg of caffeine. To find more statistics on caffein in your beverages go here.  

How much caffeine do we need to feel nervous system effects? The blood levels of a person just consuming 100 mg of caffeine, roughly the amount consumed in a cup of coffee, are sufficient to increase wakefulness. The human ingestion of 1 gram (10 cups of coffee) or more of caffeine causes marked central nervous system stimulation, which manifests as insomnia, restlessness, excitability, and, possibly, seizures. In both laboratory animals and humans, caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine also have direct effects on organs and tissues outside of the central nervous system. These include stimulation of the heart rate and force of contraction, dilation of blood vessels and lung bronchioles, and increased urination, They increase the amount of blood pumped from the heart with each contraction.

Is caffeine addictive? Yes. Over time, you experience a diminished response to these chemicals (known as tolerance), as well as physical and psychological dependence on them. Accordingly, tolerant individuals must take more and more of these compounds than new users to achieve the same effect. This is why people are compelled to drink so many caffeinated beverages every day.  If we are aware of the potent effects of these drugs, and use them judiciously, (not every day), they could actually be of service to us in times of need (ie. driving late at night, trying to study for an exam, or during an asthma attack).

What are the most common risks of using caffeine? Small doses and temporary uses don’t usually present any serious risks.  However, it is a diuretic, which means it can cause dehydration.  If you consume a beverage with caffeine, you should drink plenty of water afterward.  Frequent caffeine consumers complain of shortness of breath. Excessive use over long periods of time can cause stress on the heart.  You can even develop an allergy or intolerance to caffeine over time. This "Caffein informer" web site has gathered the most common allergic reactions to caffeine.  Some of them include: skin problems such as itching, rashes, acne, and hives; Anxiety and panic attacks; inability to focus; tongue, glands, or throat swelling, heart racing, angry, irritable, bad mood; fatigue; dizziness; jitters; chest pain; depression; numbness; muscle pain; shortness of breath; delusions; and vision problems.
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We like to drink delicious beverages. Many of them contain a lot of caffeine.  An icy glass of water with a slice of lemon can be just as refreshing.  I put one drop of lemon essential oil in my water and it satisfies my desire for flavor.  No need for the special drinks, except as a rare exception. So when the nice waitress at the restaurant asks you what you want to drink... say “Water, thank you.”

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