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Damn good coffee: How to stop being afraid of caffeine

THE DISPUTES ABOUT THE POTENTIAL HAZARD OF COFFEE HAS BEEN STAYING FOR YEARS – some equate the benefits of quitting the drink with quitting smoking, while others argue that there is no less caffeine in tea. How are instant and decaf coffee made? Is it true that espresso on an empty stomach can cause ulcers? Should pregnant women completely give up their favorite drink? Caffeine has been studied for almost two hundred years – the first studies were started at the request of Johann Goethe by his friend – and we tried to answer these and other questions with the help of scientific research data.   

Is it true that the stronger the coffee, the more caffeine it contains?

Coffee strength is a flavor profile that does not depend on the caffeine content, so those who choose to skip caffeine can still enjoy a strong espresso. The amount of caffeine in a cup of coffee can be 50–300 mg and depends on the grind size: the finer the coffee particles, the larger the total area of ​​their contact with water, which means that more components can be extracted from them during brewing. Other factors are the duration of contact with water and the initial caffeine content of the beans – Arabica contains almost half as much as Robusta. A cup of decaffeinated coffee still contains it – but just a little, about two milligrams.     

Decaffeinated coffee, instant and capsule – fake, right?

Instant coffee is often not considered “real” due to its questionable taste, but in reality it is just a concentrate of coffee solution – and also contains caffeine, unless otherwise indicated on the package. Capsules for coffee machines like Nespresso contain regular ground coffee – and can be caffeinated or decaffeinated. As for decaffeinated coffee, it is also very real, and caffeine is extracted from it even at the stage of processing green coffee beans. 

This is done in two ways. In one embodiment, green unroasted beans are treated with dichloromethane or ethyl acetate, which remove caffeine from them – these solvents are then removed, also with the help of steam. While these substances can pose health risks, the final amount in grains is only a few parts per million – so decaf is completely safe. In another case, all components are first boiled out of green coffee beans in hot water; caffeine is extracted from this “broth” with the help of chemicals or special filters, and then a new batch of beans is placed in it. After that, thanks to the diffusion effect, the solution “draws” only caffeine from the grains, and all other substances, including those responsible for the taste, remain in them. 

Is caffeine just coffee, black tea and cola?

In fact, caffeine is found in the fruits, seeds and leaves of about sixty plants and protects them from insects – and we do get it mainly from coffee, tea, soda, cocoa and chocolate. Unfortunately, these products do not protect people from mosquito bites. On average, tea has less caffeine than coffee – 20–80 mg per cup, but not always. For example, in a cup of Japanese tea grade Gyokuro , which has a pale green color, it contains about 500 milligrams of caffeine – up to five times more than the usual cup of black tea, and two c-a-half times more than a cup of coffee.     

Is it true that coffee raises your heart rate and leads to dehydration? 

Caffeine acts on the central nervous system – and this leads to a number of effects , psychological and physiological, including the control of muscle contraction and processes associated with sleep. Caffeine raises blood pressure for a couple of hours (slightly, by 3–8 mm Hg) and raises the heart rate. Although caffeine is a mild diuretic, it does not contribute to dehydration despite popular myth.    

Low doses of caffeine (20-200 mg per day – that is, up to three cups of coffee) improve mood, focus, energy and sociality, but the systematic use of too large doses (1500-2000 mg per day – that is, somewhere 15– 20 cups) is associated with anxiety, tremors, sleep disorders, and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

Can caffeine cause gastritis or cancer?

It is believed that coffee, especially on an empty stomach, can harm the stomach. Studies show that coffee stimulates the secretion of gastrin, an enzyme that increases the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. True, this effect is associated with other components of coffee, and not with caffeine – in its pure form, it does not cause such a reaction. Be that as it may, at the moment there is no evidence that small changes in gastric acid production can be a risk factor for peptic ulcer disease. The discomfort after drinking coffee should not be a cause for concern.      

Last year, the International Agency for Cancer Research concluded that coffee does not contribute to the development of malignant tumors . What’s more, it was found that drinking coffee is associated with a reduced risk of liver cancer . Of course, we shouldn’t forget that cancer is a multifactorial disease and its development can be influenced by different aspects of diet, lifestyle and genetic predisposition.  

Still, coffee is a drug? 

Regular consumption of even small doses of caffeine – about 100 mg per day – is physically addictive, but it cannot be compared with the effects of alcohol and other drugs. A sharp reduction in caffeine in the diet can lead to short-term “withdrawal” – it manifests itself in mood changes, headaches, muscle pain, insomnia, high blood pressure. Fortunately, this syndrome is short-lived: symptoms are most acute a couple of days after abstinence from caffeine and disappear completely within a week. 

As for the addiction to caffeine, that is, the gradual disappearance of its effects, scientists differ. It seems that the sensitivity to caffeine varies from person to person . Some people manage to quickly get used to it – that’s why there are people among us who calmly fall asleep after a cup of coffee, without experiencing any of its effects. In other addictive and does not develop; at the moment there are no unambiguous conclusions about what factors this is associated with.    

Can pregnant women drink coffee?

A recent estimate from the European Food Safety Authority suggests that single doses of caffeine no higher than 200 milligrams – one to two cups of coffee – are not harmful to health, nor do they interact with other substances such as alcohol or taurine. Daily doses not exceeding 400 mg are also not associated with health risks – however, this does not apply to pregnant women for whom a lower dose is recommended , not exceeding 200 mg per day.   

Can you die by drinking too much coffee?

Caffeine overdose can be fatal – but its amount must be huge – 200 mg per kilogram of body weight, that’s about 70 cups of coffee drunk at the same time. Lower doses – 400-500 mg at a time can lead to poisoning and its effects : confusion, hallucinations, agitation, tachycardia, vomiting. Overdosing usually occurs either by consuming caffeine in pills or capsules, or by quickly absorbing several drinks containing it in a row – it turns out that drinking coffee measuredly throughout the morning can be safer than triple espresso at a time. 

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