Caffeine..Good or Bad?

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Coffee comes from the seed of the fruit from the coffee plant which is then roasted, ground, and brewed or steamed into beverage. Over 2,000 substances have been isolated from coffee. Caffeine itself is a white, tasteless substance, which, while stimulating, “acts as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and kills certain insects feeding on the plants.” (1)
 
Caffeine is a central nervous system and metabolic stimulant, which temporarily wards off drowsiness, but it also has direct effects on the heart and circulatory system. It is classified as a psychoactive drug, “but, unlike many other psychoactive substances, it is both legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world. Beverages containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks, enjoy great popularity; in North America, 90% of adults consume caffeine daily.” (1)
 
Coffee gets a bad rap from many groups, blaming and associating its consumption with a large number of diseases and health alterations.  However, “the majority of epidemiological studies regarding this relationship have not yielded a clear conclusion, mainly due to the lack of concrete and continuous information regarding the frequency of consumption, the exact composition of the beverage, and factors associated with an unhealthy lifestyle (cigarette smoking, alcohol, and sedentarism).  These aspects in combination could lead to diseases or health problems.” (7)


Various Caffeine Amounts for Comparison (in mg)

7oz coffee 175

Espresso 100

Green Tea 20

Black tea 80+

Coke 34

Mountain Dew 54

Red Bull 80


Dependency
There’s no getting around it, most people use caffeinated beverages as a pick-me-up and readily admit that they can’t start their day without it. With heavy use, strong tolerance develops rapidly and caffeine can produce clinically significant physical and mental dependence. Although there is evidence of temporary improved mental cognition, clearer focus, and improved coordination, caffeine can also interfere with important brain function. “And then there’s the question of why we reach for the mug in the morning (and perhaps the afternoon). Is it really just a pick-me-up, or is it a band-aid for a larger problem like sleep deprivation, hormonal imbalance, lack of physical activity, lack of adequate sunlight, you name it. Are we really taking care of ourselves?” (2)
 
The Benefits of Caffeine
Antioxidants:
Coffee contains huge and diverse levels of antioxidant compounds such as chlorogenic acids and melanoids, that trap free radicals and are powerful antioxidants.  It also contains phenols, volatile aroma compounds, and oxazoles, which are efficiently absorbed by the body and scavenge free radicals around the body.
Better Cardio Output and Endurance:
Many athletes and avid exercisers claim a better workout and being able to workout longer. There is some evidence to support this but much has to do with the euphoric sensation the drug supplies. In addition, “It is evident that the cardiovascular response to this substance depends on a variety of factors such as the amount ingested, the time of consumption, the frequency, degree of absorption, and hepatic metabolism, all aspects which cause a unique response of each individual to caffeine. (9)
Fat Burning:
The release of adrenaline from ingesting caffeine promotes stored fat to be repackaged and released as glucose; a process known as Lipolysis.
Asthma and Breathing:
The active substances theobromine and theophylline found in caffeinated beverages are used in the treatment of respiratory diseases.
Cholesterol:
“The regular consumption of coffee reduced susceptibility to low-density lipoprotein oxidation, a pathway which develops in atherosclerotic plaques, thus favoring endothelial function.” (8)
 

As American as apple pie, a morning cup ‘o joe is a ritual for many people. Used mainly to reduce fatigue and restore alertness, coffee is enjoyed by millions of people around the world. In addition, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, and other caffeinated beverages, and even some pharmaceuticals or decongestants contain caffeine; making it the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world. Yup, you read that right, caffeine is indeed classified as a psychoactive stimulant, “a chemical substance that crosses the blood–brain barrier and acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it affects brain function, resulting in alterations in perception, mood, consciousness, cognition, and behavior.” (1)
 
That said, as you’ll read below, caffeine does indeed have many beneficial properties to it, which is good since it comes in tasty drinks like coffee and treats like chocolate.

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The Good The Bad,, and The Ugly … Caffeine’s Complicated Effects
Caffeine is labeled as both a vasodilator (opens up blood flow) and a vasoconstrictor (constricts flow). Caffeine causes relaxation of muscle cells in the blood vessels, except those in the brain. Here it gets complicated. You can research 100 different sources and get both answers. What I came up with is this:
- It decreases blood flow in the brain. Caffeine is a cerebral vasoconstrictor, and “it specifically inhibits a ubiquitous substance in the body called Adenosine which dilates cerebral blood vessels and decreases neuronal firing rates in the nervous system.” (6)
But:
“Blocking adenosine receptors which are meant to receive important messages in the brain, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, kidney and respiratory systems creates interference and uncontrolled neuron firing in the brain.” (5)
Helps with Headaches
Because a headache is a series of spasms in the arteries of the brain, caffeine in effect interrupts the cycle, keeping the arteries in a state of constriction alleviating the rebound, up and down, contract-relax state that causes headache pain.
- It increases blood flow to peripheral arteries, which may increase heart rate and blood pressure. This may be a problem for those with existing coronary artery disease.
- Caffeine stimulates brain cells to release dopamine. “Dopamine plays a major role in the brain system that is responsible for reward-driven learning.” (1)
But:
- GABA , an important neurotransmitter, which helps us filter information, memory, and learning is compromised.
- The Pituitary Gland secretes an emergency hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone). ACTH signals the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline and noradrenaline which speeds up our metabolism by causing the body to release fatty acids from its bodyfat stores and for the liver to mobilize stored glucose and free fatty acids. (you burn fat more efficiently)
But:
These hormones also play on nerves and nerve transmission by increasing blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety, nervousness, irritation, and the jitters typically associated with drinking caffeinated beverages.
“Regular use of caffeine usually combines caffeine dependency with a wide range of unpleasant physical and mental conditions including nervousness, irritability, restlessness, insomnia, headaches, and heart palpitations after caffeine use.” (3)
 
And:
Adrenal Fatigue
The effect caffeine has on our adrenals is similar to our innate flight or flight response when sensing a dangerous situation and need instant energy to get the heck out of there. Hormone release mobilizes the body for action when needed but constant weakening of our adrenal glands results in a weakened immune system.
Over stimulation of the adrenal glands can cause a situation of Adrenal Fatigue. Just as the Pancreas becomes insufficient by the overproduction of Insulin due to excess carbohydrate intake, the adrenals can get to a point of fatigue from constantly releasing Cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) More on Adrenal Fatigue HERE
It’s a Diuretic
Caffeine seeps water from muscle tissue and increases urine flow. But, regular users of caffeine have been shown to develop a strong tolerance to the diuretic effect, and studies have generally failed to support the notion that ordinary consumption of caffeinated beverages contributes significantly to dehydration, even in athletes.
 
Caffeine, Insulin Sensitivity and Fat Loss
You will read that caffeine has a negative effect on Insulin, more specifically creating a situation of Insulin Sensitivity. These articles do not look at the entire picture or context of what is happening. As mentioned above, the hormones released by the adrenal glands stimulate the release of fatty acids from bodyfat stores to be converted to glucose and used as energy. This conversion is called Lipolysis: fat is converted to glucose for instant energy. This is a good thing. The increased availability of free fatty acids increases fat oxidation and spares muscle glycogen, thereby enhancing endurance performance True, this blocks the release of Insulin creating a temporary situation of Insulin Sensitivity, but it is short lived. But, too much of a good thing, as with anything in life has its consequences. Insulin sensitivity and adrenal fatigue from regular, continual, excessive caffeine bombardment isn’t wise.
 
Here’s a tasty article lowering the risk of Type II Diabetes from caffeine
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21914162
 

So, there you have it, caffeine has benefits such as vasodilation, the ability to improve focus, turn and burn fat for fuel, and well, is downright tasty to a lot of folks. The risks of dependency, brain alteration and function, and adrenal fatigue are there if it becomes habit out of necessity.


-Leavitt January 2013

 
Citations
1. Wikipedia: Caffeine
2. Marks Daily Apple- Mark Sisson
3. Iancu I, Olmer A, Strous RD (2007). "Caffeinism: History, clinical features, diagnosis, and treatment". In Smith BD, Gupta U, Gupta BS. Caffeine and activation theory: effects on health and behavior. CRC Press. pp. 331–344. ISBN 978-0-8493-7102-8.
4. William J. Walker, Pharm.D. - 9/14/2004
5. Diane Spindler PhD, NMD, RScD Personal Fitness Professional Jan.2000
6. Caffeine's Vascular Mechanisms of Action: Darío Echeverri, Félix R. Montes, Mariana Cabrera, Angélica Galán, and Angélica
Prieto Laboratorio de Investigación en Función Vascular, Departamento de Investigaciones, Fundación CardioInfantil—Instituto de Cardiología, Carrera 13b no. 163-85, Torre A, Piso 3., Bogotá,  Colombia 6 April, 2010  http://www.hindawi.com/journals/ijvm/2010/834060/
7. S. Eisenberg, “Looking for the perfect brew,” Science News, vol. 133, pp. 252–253, 1988.
8. G. S. Yukawa, M. Mune, H. Otani, Y. Tone, X.-M. Liang, H. Iwahashi, and W. Sakamoto, “Effects of coffee consumption on oxidative susceptibility of low-density lipoproteins and serum lipid levels in humans,” Biochemistry, vol. 69, no. 1, pp. 70–74, 2004.
9. D. M. Grant, B. K. Tang, and W. Kalow, “Variability in caffeine metabolism,” Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics, vol. 33, no. 5, pp. 591–602, 1983.