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.

Are There Newfound Health Benefits to Coffee?

Health Benefits To CoffeeIsn’t it great when something you love turns out to actually be good for you? Last year we waxed poetic on the many health benefits of drinking black coffee. And this year, the news just keeps getting better. It seems like every few months, there are more reports touting the health benefits to coffee drinking, as opposed to its risks. Some experts even go so far as to categorize caffeine as a nutrient, not a drug. That’s good news for us coffee lovers.

So go ahead and pour that second – or sixth – cup as we take a quick look at the most recent findings.

Coffee Linked to Reduced Type 2 Diabetes Risk

“There have been many metabolic studies that have shown that caffeine, in the short term, increases your blood glucose levels and increases insulin resistance,” Shilpa Bhupathiraju, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition has said. In a 20-year study, coffee consumption was linked to an eight percent decrease in type 2 diabetes in women and a four percent decrease in men drinking regular coffee and seven percent who drank decaf.

So what’s the magic inside the cup? Caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid and caffeine — the three most common components in coffee – seem to be the culprits, with caffeic acid leading the bunch in terms of benefits. The fact that caffeic acid is in higher concentrations in decaf may mean that the health benefits of decaf are even greater.

Does that mean you should switch to decaf? Experts say not yet, but it’s fine to have another cup.

Brewing Up a Fresh Pot of Pain Relief

If you work at a computer and have neck, shoulder or back pain, consider drinking more joe before you punch the clock. In a recent study, people who drank coffee before work exhibited less pain throughout the day.

More studies still need to be done on the impacts of pain relief and caffeine, however, so don’t through away that Ibuprofen yet.

…And So Much More

Aside from those hot topics—and the sheer fact of its deliciousness—there are a bunch of other reasons to drink your daily cup. The antioxidants in coffee have been linked to the reduction of risk of coronary artery disease and stroke, reduced symptoms of depression, and (surprise, surprise) increased levels of awareness while driving on long road trips.

And perhaps our favorite health benefit of all: The New England Journal of Medicine found that people who drank coffee lived longer than those who didn’t. We’ll drink to that.