Literatus: Less known facts about caffeine

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

IN 2007, the word “caffeinism” appeared in scientific literature through the article that Iancu, Olmer and Strous wrote in the book Caffeine and Activation Theory: Effects on Health and Behavior (CRC Press) and edited by Smith, Gupta and Gupta.

In that chapter (“Caffeinism: History, clinical features, diagnosis, and treatment”), the authors defined caffeinism as the “condition associated with symptoms that combine caffeine dependency with a wide range of unpleasant physical and mental conditions including nervousness, irritability, restlessness, insomnia, headaches and heart palpitation (hearing your heartbeat) after caffeine use.”

They specified the dose range as between 1,000 and 1,500 mg per day.


If you remember our Breakthroughs article on coffee last month, this dose range, which is equivalent to 1.0 to 1.5 g caffeine per day, falls well within the caffeine concentration of espresso coffee: 1.69 to 2.25 g per liter (100 mg/44-60 mL serving).

So if a person drinks half a liter of espresso a day, then his consumption falls within this definition of caffeinism and the symptoms associated to it. That is a very high intake level for a regular drinker though.

Here are a few physiological facts about caffeine when consumed.

It is available to the body 99 percent of dose taken. Up to 36 percent binds with protein, allowing it to penetrate cell walls and affecting living structures inside the cells. It stays in the blood for five hours. The good news is caffeine (100 percent) leaves the body through the urine after that.

Percolated coffee contains up to 652 mg caffeine per liter. Drip coffee has up to 845 mg/L. Decaffeinated coffee has as much as 72 mg/L. Tea can have up to 416 mg/L. Energy drinks can contain up to 403 mg/L.

Surprisingly, the harmless-looking Mountain Dew soft drink contains 154 mg/L (12-oz), the highest caffeine content among soft drinks.

Lastly, be extra careful in drinking coffee while maintaining medications. Taking Fluvoxamine or Levofloxacin, for instance, blocks the liver enzyme that metabolizes caffeine, increasing caffeine content in the blood five-fold per dose. That means if you drink three cups of drip coffee daily, you will get a caffeine dose of 525 mg a day. If you take levofloxacine three times a day, your blood can accumulate 7.8 g of caffeine daily. That is way beyond the lethal dose of coffee, which is 6.4 g that can result to a quick death by caffeine overdose or through liver cirrhosis. Think what is going to happen if you drink a cup of espresso coffee daily and take medications.

It is year 2014. And, from all indications, coffee drinking is here to stay. But if you must drink coffee, be smarter this time. Count your caffeine intake.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 12, 2014.


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