The Most Popular Drug in the World
Legend says that in the 11th century, an Ethiopian goat herder noticed his goats frolicking energetically instead of sleeping during the night after consuming seeds from a plant. He decided to try the seeds himself, greatly enjoyed the effects, and offered the seeds to a group of monks. The monks agreed to try his offering and afterwards spent a night awake, alert, and full of energy. These seeds were actually coffee beans and the stimulant in the beans was later identified as caffeine, currently the most popular and widely used legal drug in the world. The monks, some of whom believed the seeds were a gift from the God of Wisdom, spread the word about their experience with the beans, and coffee plant growers sprung up rapidly. Eventually, the beans were brewed in water to make the coffee drink we know today.
In Europe, coffee became a cultural obsession and coffee houses opened throughout the country. In the 17th century, these establishments became centers for patrons to gather and exchange information for hours at a time while sipping their coffee. These shops were often referred to as ‘Schools of the Wise’ as they enjoyed the mentally stimulating effects of their coffee such as elevation in mood, heightened awareness, and easing of sleepiness and fatigue.
Nearly 200 years ago, a German scientist isolated and purified a white power from coffee and mocha beans and this product was subsequently known as caffeine.
Caffeine occurs naturally in over 60 plants, the most notable being coffee beans, tea leaves and cocoa pods (used to make chocolate products). Initially caffeine was obtained by extraction from plants but now it is synthesized (man-made in a laboratory), a much cheaper process. It is used as an additive to foods, beverages, and medications. Naturally obtained extracted caffeine and artificial synthesized caffeine are chemically the same and have the same physiologic effects. The difference may only come down to whether you want to consume a natural product or one that is manufactured in a pharmaceutical facility in China.
Caffeine is a central nervous system (brain) and metabolic stimulant. It is completely absorbed from the stomach in 30-40 minutes and has peak effects in 1-2 hours. How long it remains active in the body varies widely among individuals, but on average it’s effects last 3-6 hours in a healthy adult person. Anyone experiencing problems with insomnia should consider avoiding caffeine products approximately 6 hours before time of sleep.
Most people are aware of short term benefits of caffeine use, particularly stimulation of the brain resulting in increased mental alertness and improvement in cognitive performance. Other benefits include increased colon motility resulting in more frequent bowel movements and use as a headache remedy increasing the potency of acetaminophen (Tylenol) or aspirin by 40%.
However, there are a number of negative effects that some people experience without realizing that caffeine, even in relatively small amounts, is the culprit. A clinical study revealed that 15% of the participants were being treated with prescription medication for problems that resolved with reduced caffeine use. The symptoms included anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, heart palpitations, tremulousness, muscle twitches, heart burn, and frequent urination.
People who use daily caffeine and suddenly reduce their intake can experience withdrawal symptoms including headache, nausea, and fatigue. A common withdrawal syndrome is ‘weekend headaches’ that occur when the amount of caffeine is reduced on weekends compared to a typical work day.
Most experts agree that caffeine is safe if it’s use is limited to 400 mg per day.
FYI (caffeine content of common beverages): 8 oz. cup of coffee average 140 mg (expresso 240-700 mg; decaf 3-12 mg); 8 oz. cup of tea 50-100 mg; 12 oz. can of soft drink 35-45 mg.
Clinical studies have inconsistently shown some long -term benefits and no long term adverse effects of coffee/tea/caffeine consumption. Based on available data, however, there is insufficient evidence for promoting or discouraging it’s use.
Dr. Tippett is the founder of Comprehensive Quality Healthcare Providers, a concierge internal medicine practice located at 1210 Commerce Dr. Suite 106 Greensboro, Ga. 30642. He can be reached at 706-510-3659,. Visit his webpage at www.drtippett.com