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Caffeine's Cultural Presence

Caffeine's Cultural Presence

Caffeine has become an acceptable drug of choice. The significance of coffee's cultural presence in society in the lives of both adults and children calls for reflection upon the health implications of this lifestyle.

The history of coffee and caffeine use finds origins in most cultures as it was used for ceremony or for a boost of energy during the day but now has become a regular, overused energy stimulant in the Western world, with the United States and Canada leading in coffee and caffeine use.

Coffee, brewed from the ground-up coffee bean, is the major vehicle for caffeine consumption. All coffee begins as green beans that must be roasted at approximately 500 degrees F and it is this process that produces the coffee we drink. Processing at these high temperatures destroys any enzymatic qualities that existed in the green bean and renders them lifeless.

In Canada and the USA, more than a half billion cups are consumed daily, with most consumers drinking two or more cups per day and more than ten pounds of coffee per person per year. This food/drug mixture is often combined with sugar and milk and is one of the most freely marketed substances in the world.

Its use has now established a firm grip on the youngest of our population and is deemed acceptable by most.

A Life Time Drug

It all begins with hot chocolate or chocolate bars, which contain some caffeine. Then we move into colas or other soft drinks with caffeine, later adding coffee and tea. Many adults use caffeine daily but awareness of the long range health hazards associated is ever so slowly seeping into mainstream consciousness. Caffeine, one of the class of methylxanthine chemicals/drugs, is present in coffee and many other drinks and products. Another of zanthines, theopylline, is found in black teas; it is also commonly used in medicine to aid breathing.

Theobromine, the third xanthine derivative, is found in cocoa. Methylxanthines are found in many other plants, including the kola nut originally used to make cola drinks. Physiologically, caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. A dosage of 50 - 100 mg. The amount in one cup of coffee, will produce an apparent temporary increase in mental clarity and energy level while reducing drowsiness. For many users, it specifically improves muscular coordination and production.

"I'm Not ADDICTED But Pour Me Another!"

There are several basic areas of concern about this substance. A major one, possibly even more important than caffeine itself, is the toxicity of the chemicals used in the many stages of growing and marketing coffee. The easily rancified oils and the irritating acids contained in the beans offer further hazards. People trying to cut down by drinking decaf could even be exposed to dangerous chemicals unless they are drinking coffee prepared by the "water process" or Swiss process, which uses steam distillation to remove the caffeine. Otherwise, agents such as TCE (trichloroethylene) or methylene chloride used in the chemical processing may be contained as residues in the decaffeinated coffee.

More coffee concerns have risen over the last decades as pesticide use and chemical processing have generally increased. Even though coffee consumption seems to have reached astronomical proportions, the peak of such a social habit actually occurred in 1946 with the yearly consumption being 20 pounds per person, which translated into an average of over 1000 cups per person annually! Soft drinks and over the counter drugs also contain caffeine. Be a label reader if avoiding the influence of caffeine is important to you. The 'kick' you may be getting may carry more punch than you bargained for.

The Negative Affects of Caffeine

The common side effects of caffeine are numerous and should be examined closely to determine if its use is contributing to your health conditions.

  • Caffeine's influence contributes to excess nervousness, irritability, insomnia, restless legs, dizziness, and subsequent fatigue.

  • Headaches can also be very common, as is heartburn.

  • Psychological symptoms of general anxiety or panic attacks may also occur. Hyperactivity and bed wetting may develop in children who consume caffeine.

  • Gastrointestinal tract and liver irritant:

  • Caffeine directly increases stomach hydrochloric acid production.

  • Clearly bad for people with or prone to ulcers or gastritis.

  • Increases the likelihood of peptic ulcer disease.

  • Decaffeinated coffee is also acidic though it is less stimulating.

  • Coffee causes more than the normal acidity to form, the stomach produces even more hydrochloric acid to neutralize this influx which, exacerbates the problem.

When the stomach fluids become excessively acidic, any aluminum present in the diet from food, drugs, etc. is transported into the bloodstream. This tainted blood finds its way to the brain and deposits itself in tissue. The consequences of aluminum toxicity are seizures, decreased ability to learn, impaired coordination, memory loss, and even psychotic reactions. It is interesting to note that aluminum remains inert in the body until combined with acid.

  • Caffeine's diuretic effect causes loss of potassium, magnesium, zinc and other minerals and B vitamins, especially thiamine B1, and vitamin C.

  • Caffeine, and particularly coffee, reduces the absorption of iron and calcium, especially when it is consumed at mealtime.

  • Osteoporosis and anemia are thus more common with coffee use.

  • Diarrhea can occur which relaxes the smooth muscle in the colon, causing dependency for bowels.

  • Caffeine raises the blood pressure, increases cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

  • Heart rhythm disturbances, arrhythmia, increased heart rate (tachycardia) and excitability of the heart nerve conduction system.

  • Increase in norepinephrine secretion causing vasoconstriction. May have a mild vasodilating effect in the heart and body, the adrenal stimulation may override this.

  • Fibrocystic breast disease increases with use.

  • Birth defects noted with higher levels of caffeine use during pregnancy. Spontaneous abortions more frequent with coffee drinking in early pregnancy. Caffeine crosses the placenta and affects the fetus and also enters breast milk.

  • Incidence of certain cancers increases with caffeine use. Bladder, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancers are directly related to coffee consumption.

  • Kidney stones are a result of diuretic and chemical effects.

  • Adrenal exhaustion, stress, fatigue, hypoglycemia are tied to caffeine consumption. It increases the blood sugar as it stimulates the adrenal glands.

The Good News About Coffee

Asthma

Caffeine can eradicate an asthma attack or bring focus to your golf game but common sense around the frequency and quantity of use is important. Athletic Performance Small doses of caffeine for athletes has shown to improve performance by peaking their adrenaline and mind focus. Coffee can increase the efficacy of some over the counter drugs such as analgesics and therefore is conveniently included in the formula. On the other hand, caffeine can neutralize the effects of Homeopathic remedies.

Migraine headaches

can sometimes be alleviated by coffee consumption as it constricts the blood vessels in the cerebellum.

Cancer

Drinking coffee could reduce the risk of colon cancer and kidney stones according to an article in August's Better Homes & Gardens. Coffee beans, like tea leaves, have natural nutrients that are transferred to the coffee we drink, said Martha Grodrian, outpatient dietitian with Good Samaritan Hospital in Dayton, Ohio. "These nutrients inhibit certain types of cancer". And the nutrients are not found in decaffeinated coffee, only in caffeinated coffee. "I recommend moderation," she said, "which supplies the healthy nutrients as well as keeping the caffeine intake low."

Type 2 Diabetes

A 12-year study of more than 13,000 healthy men and women suggests that coffee protects against Type 2 diabetes. Maybe it has effects at the level of the liver, which might inhibit the liver from producing glucose," said nutrition researcher Dr. Rjeanne Gougeon of the McGill University Health Center. Caffeine may protect against Parkinson's disease Parkinson's disease is a progressive nervous disease that destroys dopamine-producing brain cells. The resulting symptoms are tremor, a slowing of movement, weakness and facial paralysis. Researchers believe that caffeine's helpful effect can reduce the amount of dopamine depleted from the brain.

A Harvard School of Public Health study published last May reported that men who drank four to five cups a day of caffeinated coffee cut the risk of developing Parkinson's disease nearly in half compared to men who consumed little or no caffeine daily. Women who consumed between one and three cups a day also cut their risk of developing Parkinson's disease nearly when compared to women who drank less than a cup a day. But this apparent benefit was lost at higher levels of intake.

Caffeine and osteoporosis

Although caffeine causes more calcium to be excreted in the urine, the Osteoporosis Society of Canada says that two or three cups of coffee are not harmful if you get enough calcium in your daily diet. Coffee may protect against cirrhosis of the liver. A study at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program in Northern California that looked at seven years of data found that coffee drinking might be protective against alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver. Studies in Italy and Japan have likewise indicated that coffee may prevent cirrhosis of the liver, a disease causing damage and scarring of the liver tissue, and progressive decreasing of liver function.

Caffeine and heart disease

European studies have shown that coffee consumption may increase serum cholesterol levels. However, that is due not to the caffeine but to substances called "cafestol" and "kahweol" found in the coffee's oils. When drinking boiled, unfiltered coffee, as more Europeans do, these substances remain. So long as you drink filtered drip coffee or instant coffee, which Canadians typically tend to do, odds are you're not increasing your serum cholesterol levels. That's because filters remove most of these substances, as does the process that goes into making instant coffee. A Harvard study of 45,589 men, published in 1990, found no link between excessive coffee drinking and heart disease.

Healthy Choices

So to all Coffee Drinkers, healthy choices are out there! Choosing Green Tea, including Yerba Mate, is the compromise for those who find giving up coffee near to impossible. It gives you the health support you have been looking for and the health benefits as well.; If indeed you choose coffee over other more beneficial hot beverages, it is highly important to supplement to balance and buffer your system.

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