Caffeine, It’s My Wife, It’s My Life

CaffeineIt’s a debate we’ve had for ages—is caffeine bad for you? Why do some people seem to thrive on it while others become jittery basket cases? The research is still inconclusive about the overall effects of caffeine use on health, and perhaps it always will be.

One characteristic of the research on caffeine is the tug-of-war nature of its generally accepted  findings. For every alleged benefit of caffeine, you can find a counterbalancing negative side effect:

  • Caffeine reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease. Fantastic! Drink up! But, oh, it increases your blood pressure. Bummer. Better be careful.
  • Caffeine can sharpen your alertness and boost your attention span. Terrific! No wonder you can’t work without it! But wait a second—caffeine is also physically addictive and can cause anxiety and insomnia. Looks like we can never have nice things!
  • Caffeine can lower your risk of developing diabetes and increase your metabolic rate. Sweet! It makes a good diet aid, then, right? Not exactly. Caffeine can also hamper your concentration by reducing fine motor control of your muscles. And it makes you have to pee a lot, that’s for sure.

Any caffeine junkie coffee aficionado knows that if you skip your coffee in the morning, you’ll have a raging headache by lunch. That coffee does require more trips to the comfort station than if you consumed the same amount of water. That late-night cups do sometimes cause some tossing and turning. Which leads to another recurring debate of ours….

To Decaf or Not to Decaf? Oh, Don’t Go There, Hammy

We always found the apocryphal tale that French philosopher and enfant terrible Voltaire routinely consumed 70 cups of coffee per day. Doctors still refer to a 6-ounce cup of coffee as a dose, and a 70-cup dose, administered at once, is fatal for our lab rat friends.

So caffeine, like many psychoactive drugs, can be fatal, but you would have to drink 70 cups in an hour to see such drastic side effects. Still, caffeine overdose is a well-known medical condition that befalls many who over-consume caffeine products: severe irritability and anxiety, restlessness and confusion, seizures, trembling and twitching, rapid breathing and heartbeat, dehydration and fever, ringing in the ears, nausea and vomiting, delirium and hallucinations.

It ain’t pretty, but these days, coffee is one of the weaker caffeine-delivery agents available—many so-called “energy drinks” contain megadoses of caffeine equal to 4 or 5 cups in one 8-ounce can. One of those drinks would be unmarketable without the monster caffeine content. After all, have you tasted one?

Born in a German Decaf Lab

Caffeine’s jittery side effects were noted immediately as coffee spread around the world beginning in the fifteenth century, but it wasn’t until 1903 that a practical decaffeination process was perfected by two German coffee sellers and chemistry buffs, Ludwig Roselius and Karl Wimmer.

They used brine and benzene to rinse the caffeine out of green coffee beans. It ain’t pretty, but it removes up to 99% of the caffeine, allowing more people to enjoy coffee’s rituals

And in many ways, that’s really what drinking coffee is for many, a cherished ritual, an engine for social interaction.

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