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Caffeine: And Now For the Good News!

--by Susan O. Henry

Coffeemanics, rejoice!

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They've been studying caffeine (again!), and this time, the news is all good. Once maligned as all-around bad for you, the lively substance has now been given a clean bill of health by ... well, everyone: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Surgeon General, National Academy of Science, American Medical Association, American Academy of Family Physicians, National Cancer Institute, The Centers for Disease Control, American Cancer Society, National Research Council on Diet and Health, International Food Information Council, the Framingham Heart Study, the Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, and scores of researchers.

So pour yourself "The Pause That Refreshes" and join us for a look at the latest good-to-the-last-drop news.

Debunking the Myths

According to recent research and endorsed by the above organizations, "moderate" intake (variously defined as three cups, six cups, and 300 mg caffeine) does not increase the risk of, or contribute to:

  • any type of human cancer
  • cardiovascular/arterial diseases. In fact, because caffeine increases physical performance and endurance, caffeinated drinks may actually protect against heart disease.
  • high blood pressure. Any caf-induced rise in BP is short-lived, and generally is less than is experienced when climbing a stairway.
  • infertility
  • complications in pregnancy or adversity to fetus
  • bone loss/osteoperosis in adults. But here the experts hedge: They admonish persons ingesting more than three caffeinated drinks per day to offset the calcium loss with a cup of low-fat milk daily.
  • Caffeine does not "sober up" the un-sober.

The Performance-and-Endurance Enhancer

Athletes of all persuasions have participated in tons of tests to evaluate caffeine as an enhancer of performance and endurance, and the results, say researchers at Canada's University of Guelph, are "clear as a bell: caffeine works."

The tests show that ingesting 330 mg (or 5 mg per kilogram of body weight) 30 minutes to an hour before workouts results in longer endurance, faster times, less exertion, less fatigue, and more rapid recovery -- up to 30 percent better in each category. The most effective caffeine, though, is in tablet form, not in coffee, because the 100-plus other compounds in coffee probably block some of the effect of caffeine.

Megadoses, however, are not the right answer. Persons who do not drink caffeine steadily get the best workout-enhancer effect. In fact many groups, including the International Olympic Committee, forbid "very high doses," which they define as 600+ mg. per day (about 5 cups of drip-brewed "regular"). The other caf caveat: Don't consume while working out. As a potent diuretic, caffeine dehydrates; what exercisers take for fatigue could be serious dehydration.

The Fat Burner

None of the research reports flat-out recommends caffeine as a weight-loss/control catalyst, but the implications are pretty clear.

  • Caffeine, which speeds metabolism, is the most-active ingredient in many "diet pills."
  • Caf breaks down fat, freeing fatty acids which are immediately burned. Conversion of fat to energy is about 30 percent more efficient when caffeine is consumed prior to exercise. Which brings up another caf caveat: The break-down, and the burning, occur only when you're in action!
  • While the fat is being burned, the glycogen, glucose, and amino acids (blood sugars) are being reserved -- so blood sugar levels remain higher for longer. Low blood sugar = hunger; high glucose staves starving. This is why coffee is popular among students and think-tankers. The brain functions exclusively on glucose, and higher blood sugar levels facilitate thinking.

How Much is in What?

Categorical caffeine content varies widely, as much as 50 percent plus or minus. The following are "approximate averages" in milligrams.

Espresso 200
Boiled (Cowboy/Camp/Norwegian) 200
Brewed, drip 115
Brewed, perked 80
50-50 or Lite, drip 55
50-50 or Lite, perked 40
Instant 65
Decaf, brewed 3
Decaf, instant 2
Brewed, U.S. brands 40
Brewed, imports 60
Instant 30
Iced (12 oz.) 70
Water Joe, 16.9 oz.
COCOA, 5 OZ. 4

Caf and Kids

While all reports conclude that caffeine causes no significant loss of calcium in adults, it's an entirely different case for children. It's widely thought that coffee will, as kids say, "stump your growth." It does worse than stunt; it destroys: caffeine actually dissolves the calcium in young bones.

When a test group of 13-to-18-year-olds drank an unsweetened caffeinated drink, their urinary calcium output increased by 25 percent (to 20 mg per hour for three hours). When they drank caffeine-plus-sugar, their calcium loss was 30 mg/hour. Phosphorus, found in most colas, accelerates bone loss even more; one cola costs as much as 120 milligrams of calcium. Furthermore, a soft drink after a workout also depletes children's sodium, chloride, and potassium, causing sore muscles and delayed recovery time after exercise.

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