Monday, November 17, 2014

Discovery Central - Caffeine

Awww! That cup of coffee. When you grab it, pouring that dark liquid into your mouth in early morning, you are sure it will help you against sleep. It's commonly known this is caused by caffeine, a chemical widely used for its awakening properties. Caffeine has been used as a drug for thousands of years, both in medicine and in daily life. There are several plants, cultivated or harvested, that contain this substance, but today caffeine is added to many foods, more than you think. Despite the increase in caffeine use in recent times, many people have little knowledge of the overall effects it has on their bodies. So, let's start with this new "Discovery Central".

The word Caffeine derives of course from the world coffee because coffee plants were one the first discovered ones which had a huge amount of it. Caffeine’s chemical name is 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine, based on its formula, C8H10N4O2, and in its pure form caffeine is a very bitter white powder. But it can have other names when found in particular plants. For example, sometimes is called guaranine when found in guarana, mateine when found in mate, and theine when found in tea. 
Overall, caffeine is found in the beans, leaves, and fruit of over 60 plants, where it acts as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and kills certain insects feeding upon them. Plants that contained caffeine have been used as a stimulant and source of energy since as they were discovered. Different cultures all around the world used caffeine long before they knew what caused the effects used the plants that produce this drug for medical uses and to increase energy. It was not until 1819 that the drug caffeine itself was isolated as the source of the effects. Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge made the discovery in Europe as a result of the growing interest in plant chemistry that began there in the nineteenth century. A poet called Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe gave Runge some coffee beans as a gift, and told him to analyze them. In few months Runge was able to extract and purify caffeine from the beans. From this point on caffeine was identified in many plants all around the world. Only a year later, in 1820, it was found that the theine in tea was also caffeine, but it was not until 1865 that it was discovered in kola nuts.

Nowadays much of the modern population uses caffeine as a stimulant, exciting the brain and nervous system while fighting fatigue. Making caffeine one of the most widely consumed psychoactive agents in the world! Caffeine is a drug like substance that shares traits with other addictive substances such as amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin (find out the first Discovery Central). Caffeine uses the same biochemical mechanisms as these other drugs to stimulate brain functions. As a result of excess caffeine consumption you may feel like your mind is racing and your thoughts are coming much faster, and this feeling can at times be very overwhelming. Decaffeinated products are now more widely consumed against the sense of “turbo-speed”.Through extraction processes, individuals can enjoy the taste of beverages, like coffee, without feeling overstimulated.

But how it all started ? Caffeine effects have been noted since the year 850.  Each country has its own story and source of caffeine, but the most eccentric finding was in Ethiopia. The folk stories passed between generations says that a farmer, who had recently moved his goats to a new pasture found them to be restless and excited. For the next few days he watched them, and noted they were grazing on small berries. These berries were later dried and called “coffee beans”.

But we can go in older times. One of the first plants discovered and used for the effects of its caffeine was the tea plant (click to find out my Random Facts About Tea). Most people associate tea with China, as that is where European nations first learned about this beverage. Ancient writings detail how tea could improve alertness and concentration, although it was obviously not known at the time this was caused by the caffeine. The Chinese likely learned about tea from either natives of northern India, or tribesmen from Southeast Asia.

The cocoa bean (click here for the Random Facts About Chocolate) is another common plant that has long been used for the effects of caffeine. Archaeological discoveries in Mexico have found the first use of the cocoa bean to be by the Olmecs who lived in Mexico between 1500 and 400 B.C.E. The Olmecs harvested wild cacao pods to make a chocolate drink. Following the Olmecs, the Maya became very wealthy trading cocoa. Within Mexico, chocolate was then passed on to the Toltecs and finally the Aztecs in twelfth century. In the early sixteenth century, the Spanish conquistadors first learned of chocolate from the Aztecs, and it was spread through Europe from there. Although the Maya were the first civilization of the New World to keep historical records, most information about the early use of cocoa was lost when conquistadors and missionaries destroyed much of their culture.

Despite being the current primary source of caffeine, coffee (here you can find Some Random Facts) did not make its appearance until the ninth century in Ethiopia and possibly not until the fifteenth century in southern Arabia. This late discovery of coffee is unusual since coffee grew along trade routes between Ethiopia, Abyssinia, and the Middle East. Unlike chocolate and tea, coffee beans were eaten instead of made into a drink. The Galla tribe of Ethiopia mashed the beans and mixed them with animal fat to make a filling and energizing food for war trips. We can think of those as today's energy drinks.

In 1640, coffee finally made its way to Europe, first entering through Venice.  Initially it was used as medicine, but later became a social drink.  The first published paper that wrote about the effects of caffeine was by a French pharmacist, Philippe Sylvestre Dufour, in 1671.  He wrote about the three main caffeine drinks that were circulating through Europe at the time, coffee, tea, and cocoa.  These drinks were used as alternatives to alcoholic drinks in Europe at the time.This was the start of the first capitalist world economy. Caffeine spread all over the world. From then on, caffeine drinks have been modified and consumed not only in the form of coffee and tea, but in numerous forms in modern society.
The latest craze being energy drinks. The 1830s saw the first flavored soft drinks which were actually considered health drinks. The original flavors came from bark and flowers added to the drinks which gave birth to sodas such as root beer, ginger ale, and lemon. Root beer was in wide distribution by 1876, and by 1881 so was the cola flavor which is made from kola nuts. While the kola nuts do add caffeine to sodas, today 95% of the caffeine in most sodas is added for extra effect. Due to current knowledge of the effects of caffeine, US regulations have limited the caffeine content of sodas to no more than 6 mg/ounce. This level of caffeine is much lower than the amount naturally found in coffee and tea. In fact energy drinks contain caffeine along with various other chemicals to give people energy.  These drinks have taken over and are now and have caused the consumption of caffeine to skyrocket, which has lead to the controversy of its side effects.

If this helps us stay awake, why being frightened of its amount in blood ? Surely a doctor is not needed to know caffeine has bad influences on our body.
People report feeling energetic, imaginative, efficient, self-confident, alert, able to concentrate, and motivated to work. But all of these have consequences.

Caffeine is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream after oral ingestion. Its completely absorbed in just forty-five minutes. Caffeine affects the central nervous system travelling through the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, caffeine attaches to plasma and rides to the brain. When it arrives, caffeine acts as an antagonist and inhibits adenosine receptors. The blocked adenosine receptors lead to an increase of dopamine in the brain. Many of the known effects of caffeine are caused by this increasing. Dopamine helps with cognition, motor coordination, sleep, and mood, while adenosine helps promote sleep and suppress arousal. So the main effect we all known can be logically presumed. Despite what you probably think, in a chemistry lab caffeine powder is very dangerous. In fact pure caffeine is extremely toxic to humans. The chemical cannot be touched with bare hands and the fumes cannot be inhaled without serious effects.

Low doses of caffeine appear to increase motor coordination, while higher amounts decrease it to below normal levels. The effect caffeine has on sleep is also partially caused by its blocking of adenosine receptors. As previously mentioned, adenosine promotes sleep, and since caffeine blocks it from the receptors, this wards off the feeling of sleep. Unfortunately, this can lead to insomnia and cause headaches. Caffeine also increases the rate that noradrenergic neurons fire, which helps to mediate sleep. It does not, however, eliminate the need for sleep.

There are several types of symptoms that come with this condition. Some symptoms may not immediately alert you to the fact that you have had too much caffeine, since they may not seem serious. For example, you may experience:
  • dizziness
  • diarrhea
  • increased thirst
  • insomnia
  • headache
  • fever
  • irritability
Other symptoms seem more severe, and call for immediate medical treatment. These more serious symptoms of caffeine overdose include the following:
  • breathing troubles
  • vomiting
  • hallucinations
  • confusion
  • chest pain
  • irregular or fast heartbeat
  • uncontrollable muscle movements
  • convulsions
BUT I'M AFRAID IT'S NOT ALL.
After a long and persistent use of caffeine, the body can build up a tolerance to it. The number of adenosine receptors in the brain increases due to the amount of caffeine molecules blocking the others. This has two main effects on the brain. First, it requires more caffeine to block the receptors and receive the same effects. So, no particular issues. Second, with more receptors, the effect of adenosine when there is no caffeine in the body is increased. This is what causes the withdrawal symptoms that approximately a quarter of sensitive users get when they stop taking caffeine. When individuals slowly decrease their caffeine intake, withdrawal symptoms are not seen. This shows that the craving for caffeine is much weaker than that for commonly abused drugs such as amphetamines or nicotine. Withdrawal effects are similar to those of other drugs and include craving, tiredness (and insomnia), confusion, and mild to severe headaches. These symptoms can last up to two weeks. Due to the strength of caffeine, relatively small doses can be lethal. Orally ingesting as little as three grams has been known to cause fatalities. It is estimated that the lethal dose for humans is between 150 mg/kg and 200 mg/kg but it depends upon individual and sensitivity. Scientists have been examining whether excessive caffeine intake can also cause heart problems.

"COFFEE IS GOOD, TOO MUCH COFFEE...DEFINITELY NOT GOOD". I think I get the advice. What about you...?

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