Caffeine: The Wake-Promoting Therapeutic.

Caffeine is a stimulant/diuretic drug contained in coffee, tea and kola nuts. This is the stuff that makes coffee so addictive. The article reveals a variety of information ranging from lack of sleep to effects on pregnancy. Check it out.

I was about 13 years old when I had my first cup of coffee; coffee and toast with butter. At that time I was in a rebellious stage, trying new things. An act such as drinking coffee was something adults did, and I was ready to 'grow up.'

What Is Caffeine?

  • The drug contained in coffee. A bitter white alkaloid derived from coffee (or tea) and used in medicine as a mild stimulant or to treat certain kinds of headaches.
  • The stimulant drug contained in coffee and tea. This is the stuff that makes coffee so addictive. It stimulates the central nervous system and, in the right amounts, causes adrenaline to be released and can enhance heart function.
  • An alkaloid found in coffee, tea, and kola nuts that acts as a stimulant and a diuretic.

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  • A stimulating drug found in coffee, tea, and cola beverages. After a headache begins, caffeine may be helpful in aborting headaches, so it is widely used in combination drugs prescribed for relief of headache. Paradoxically, using caffeine to excess or too rapid withdrawal from caffeine may cause headaches in some individuals.
  • A mild stimulant, the most widely used drug in the world.
  • Slurped in black coffee or sipped in green tea, gulped down a soda or knocked back a headache pill; caffeine is the world's most popular psychoactive drug.

Caffeine, the white, bitter-tasting, crystalline substance was first isolated from coffee in 1820. Both words, caffeine and coffee, are derived from the Arabic word qahweh (pronounced "kahveh" in Turkish). Coffee trees were cultivated in the 6th century and coffee itself began to be popular in Europe in the 17th century. By the 18th century plantations had been established in Indonesia and the West Indies.

The Modern World

It's hardly a coincidence that coffee and tea caught on in Europe just as the first factories were ushering in the industrial revolution. The widespread use of caffeinated drinks - replacing the ever popular beer - facilitated the great transformation of human economic endeavor from the farm to the factory.

Boiling water to make coffee or tea helped decrease the incidence of disease among workers in crowded cities. And the caffeine in their systems kept them from falling asleep over the machinery. In a sense, caffeine is the drug that made the modern world possible. And the more modern our world gets, the more we seem to need it.

Caffeine & Sleep:

    Without that useful jolt of coffee - or Diet Coke or Red Bull - to get us out of bed and back to work, the 24-hour society of the developed world couldn't exist.

    "For most of human existence, your pattern of sleeping and wakefulness was basically a matter of the sun and the season," explains Charles Czeisler, a neuroscientist and sleep expert at Harvard Medical School. "When the nature of work changed from a schedule built around the sun to an indoor job timed by a clock, humans had to adapt.

    The widespread use of caffeinated food and drink-in combination with the invention of electric light-allowed people to cope with a work schedule set by the clock, not by daylight or the natural sleep cycle."

    Scientists have developed various theories to explain caffeine's "wake-promoting" power. The consensus today focuses on the drug's interference with adenosine, a chemical in the body that acts as a natural sleeping pill.

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    Caffeine blocks the hypnotic effect of adenosine and keeps us from falling asleep. Since caffeine has also been shown to enhance mood and increase alertness in moderate amounts, it's a potent potion for students and scholars stuck in the lab at three in the morning.

Caffeine & Workouts:

    Caffeine is used by fitness enthusiasts to get more out of their workouts. Once thought of as a 'health no-no' for athletes, caffeine is taking center stage as a legitimate aid to performance. This benefit has been recognized by the makers of sports nutrition products like energy gels (see chart below).

    A growing body of laboratory research supports caffeine as an effective ergogenic aid (An ergogenic aid is a substance that improves athletic performance). The most dramatic performance improvements (20-50 percent) are seen during prolonged (over two-hours) endurance exercise.

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Sleep Murderer:

    Caffeine is also reported to benefit short-term intense exercise lasting about five minutes at maximal output. Caffeine's ability to murder sleep also makes it a drug of choice for long-distance travelers. There are as many different jet-lag remedies as there are seats on a trans-Pacific flight.

    But one approach, outlined in The Caffeine Advantage by Bennett Alan Weinberg and Bonnie K. Bealer, involves abstaining from caffeine for several days before traveling, then dosing yourself with small amounts of coffee or tea on the day you arrive to stay alert-preferably out in the sunshine-until your regular bedtime in your destination.

    "Caffeine helps people try to wrest control away from the human circadian rhythm that is hardwired in all of us," says Czeisler. But then a shadow crosses the doctor's sunny face and his tone changes sharply. "On the other hand," he says solemnly, "there is a heavy, heavy price that has been paid for all this extra wakefulness."


To find out your average daily caffeine intake 41 (in milligrams), fill in how many servings you consume per day for each of these items:

    Without adequate sleep - the conventional eight hours out of each 24 is about right - the human body will not function at its best, physically, mentally, or emotionally, the doctor says. "As a society, we are tremendously sleep deprived."

    In fact, the professor goes on; there is a sort of catch-22 at the heart of the modern craving for caffeine. "The principal reason that caffeine is used around the world is to promote wakefulness," Czeisler says. "But the principal reason that people need that crutch is inadequate sleep."

    "Think about that: We use caffeine to make up for a sleep deficit that is largely the result of using caffeine."

Caffeine Effects During Pregnancy

If consuming caffeine in general is something many people shouldn't do, then what about women who are pregnant? Safety of caffeine consumption during pregnancy is controversial. Some studies suggest that small amounts of caffeine (less than two average cups) of coffee per day presents a slight risk to the embryo or fetus, while others do not.

There is stronger evidence that larger daily amounts of caffeine during pregnancy may increase the risks of miscarriage, preterm delivery and low birth weight, but no solid proof.

High caffeine intake during pregnancy should be avoided. A pregnant woman may be able to tolerate more than her fetus can.

Risks of even small amounts of caffeine consumption are not clear. Women trying to become pregnant may conceive sooner if they limit caffeine intake to less then two cups daily. Breastfeeding women can minimize infants' exposures to caffeine by avoiding a very high caffeine intake.

Caffeine's Effects On Women's Fertility:

    Some studies have found a link between high levels of caffeine consumption by women and delayed conception. Women who consumed more than 300 mg of caffeine per day were twice as likely to have conception delayed for a year or more.1 Another study also linked high caffeine intake to delayed conception, but only in women consuming 500 mg or more (about four cups of coffee) per day.2

    Best to keep your caffeine intake below 300 mg a day.

Caffeine's Effects On The Developing Fetus:

    Caffeine easily passes from mother to fetus through the placenta. A developing fetus may have higher, sustained blood levels of caffeine than its mother because of immature metabolism.3 A few studies have shown that consuming even small amounts of caffeine can affects fetal heart rate and movement patterns.3 A pregnant woman's ability to metabolize caffeine slows as pregnancy progresses, so some of its effects may increase later in pregnancy.

    Some studies have found that pregnant women who consumed large quantities of caffeine (five or more cups of coffee a day) were twice as likely to miscarry as those who consumed less, while fewer or no effects were seen at lower levels of caffeine consumption.4, 5 A detailed analysis of caffeine's reported effects on pregnancy outcome can be found at

Excerpt From
[ Q ] Many of my female patients, those who plan pregnancy or have conceived, are afraid of any intake of caffeine. This often makes their lives miserable during pregnancy. Is this justified scientifically?

    [ A ] Motherisk's recent meta-analysis suggests that the risks for miscarriage and fetal growth retardation increase only with daily doses of caffeine above 150 mg/d, equivalent to 1.5 cups (250mL/cup) of coffee a day. It is possible that some of this presumed risk is due to confounders, such as cigarette smoking.

Caffeine's Affects On Newborns & Infants:

    High caffeine consumption during pregnancy may shorten gestation and lower birth weight.6 Both effects appear modest in terms of days and ounces, but may be important to an infant already compromised by prematurity or fetal growth restriction. Such effects have not been consistently linked to moderate consumption.7

    A reported link between heavy maternal caffeine intake during pregnancy and increased risk of SIDS8 (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) has not been supported by further studies.9

    Breast milk can transfer caffeine from mother to baby. Very high caffeine intake by a nursing mother may make her baby irritable, with disturbed sleep cycles, but this is not known to occur from ordinary food and beverage caffeine intake, or without use of medications containing caffeine.

Tips On Cutting Caffeine Out Before Pregnancy...
Men, Please Join Us!

    To cut caffeine out of your diet can be difficult. Many will experience side effects like headaches and cravings. To reduce the risks of these side effects it is recommended that you cut back slowly. For example, a coffee drinker should start with 3/4 of a cup of regular coffee and add 1/4 of decaffeinated coffee. Slowly they will increase the decaffeinated coffee until it is the entire cup.

    Whether you discontinue caffeine cold turkey or slowly, it will help you to achieve a healthier pregnancy. It is also helpful to have your partner discontinue caffeine with you.

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    So as you prepare for pregnancy by eliminating hazards from your diet and life, remember a healthy body helps produce a healthy baby! At the age of 30, I look back at when I took my first sip. Another experience comes to mind...

    When my friend Karla and I made a large pot of coffee (I was 13) and drank it all to see what would happen. We were having a sleep over at her house, and I swear that I endured one of my first restless nights and morning bags under my eyes. Little did I know it that I was feeling what many grown-ups feel daily; fatigue from lack of sleep. Oh, to be 13 and that kid again.

Caffeine Sources:

Common Sources Of Caffeine
Product Caffeine (milligrams)
Drip (6 oz. cup)
Percolated (6 oz. cup)
Instant regular (6 oz. cup)
Decaffeinated (6 oz. cup)
Product Caffeine (milligrams)
Coca-Cola Classic (12 oz.)
Coca-Cola, new (12 oz.)
Coke Free (12 oz.)
Pepsi (12 oz.)
Pepsi Free (12 oz.)
Dr. Pepper (12 oz.)
Mountain Dew (12 oz.)
Tab (12 oz.)
Jolt (12 oz.)
44 oz. cup of Coke/Pepsi
Tea (5 min. brew, 6 oz.)
Cocoa & Chocolate
Product Caffeine (milligrams)
Cocoa beverage (water mix, 6 oz.)
Milk chocolate candy bar (8 oz.)
Baking chocolate (1 oz.)
White chocolate 2
Carob (chocolate substitute)
Nonprescription Drugs
Product Caffeine (milligrams)
Caffedrine capsules (each)
NoDoz tablets (each)
Weight-Control Aids
Product Caffeine (milligrams)
Dexatrim (daily dose)
Dietac (daily dose)
Prolamine (daily dose)

Energy Gels
Product (~1 oz) Calories Carbs (g) Sodium (mg) Caffeine (mg)
Carb-BOOM 107 27 50 0
*Real fruit, clean fuel. Only gel to offer real fruit flavorings: apple cinnamon, banana peach and strawberry kiwi. Safe for vegans.
CLIF Shot 100 23 50 0-40
*Contains all natural ingredients (such as brown rice syrup): no maltodextrins or high fructose corn syrup. Peanut Buzz and Mocha contain caffeine.
GU 100 25 40 0-20
*Created by Dr. Bill Vaughan (scientific formulator behind Power Bar) after watching his daughter compete in ultra runs. All flavors contain herbs and branch-chain amino acids. Banana is caffeine-free. Receive 1 free GU for every 10 recycled packets (must send in a minimum of 50).
Hammer Gel 100 23 20 0-50
*Not sold in pouches, but in jug (free carrying flask provided). Can also be mixed right into a water bottle like a powdered energy drink mix. No simple sugars. Espresso contains caffeine.
Power Gel 110-120 28 50 0-50
*Chocolate and strawberry-banana feature a unique "booster blend" of caffeine, kola nut extract and ginseng. Tangerine doubles the caffeine punch.
Squeezy 100 25 120 *
*A favorite in New Zealand. New and improved formula delivers electrolytes. Slingshot gel flask features ergonomic finger grips that won't slip out of sweaty hands.
Ultra Gel 133 24 20 0

Information provided by T. R. Reid for National Geographic, March of Dimes, and Mother Risk Organization.


  1. Hatch EE, Bracken MB (1993). Association of delayed conception with caffeine consumption. American Journal of Epidemiology, 138(12), 1082-092.
  2. Bolumar F, Olsen J, Rebagliato M, Bisanti L, and the European Study Group on Infertility and Subfecundity (1997). Caffeine intake and delayed conception: a European multicenter study on infertility and subfecundity. American Journal of Epidemiology, 145(4), 324-334.
  3. Eskenazi B (1999). Caffeine - filtering the facts. The New England Journal of Medicine, 341(22), 1688-689.
  4. Klebanoff MA, Levine RJ, DerSimonian R, Clemens JD, Wilkins DG (1999). Maternal serum paraxanthine, a caffeine metabolite, and the risk of spontaneous abortion. The New England Journal of Medicine, 341(22), 1639-1644.
  5. Cnattingius S, Signorello LB, Anneren G, Clausson B, Ekbom A, Ljunger E, Blot W, McLaughlin JK, Petersson G, Rane A, Granath F (2000). Caffeine intake and the risk of first-trimester spontaneous abortion. The New England Journal of Medicine, 343(25), 1839-845.
  6. Eskenazi B, Stapleton AL, Kharrazi M, Chee WY (1999). The associations between maternal decaffeinated and caffeinated coffee consumption and fetal growth and gestational duration. Epidemiology, 10(3), 242-49.
  7. Clausson B, Granath F, Ekbom A, Lundgren S, Nordmark A, Signorello LB, Cnattingius S (2002). Effect of caffeine exposure during pregnancy on birth weight and gestational age. American Journal of Epidemiology, 155(5), 429-436.
  8. Ford RP, Schluter PJ, Mitchell EA, Taylor BJ, Scragg R, Stewart AW (1998). Heavy caffeine intake in pregnancy and sudden infant death syndrome: New Zealand Cot Death Study Group. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 78(1), 9-13.
  9. Alm B, Wennergren G, Norvenius G, Skjaerven R, #039 ;amp; quot;yen N, Helweg-Larsen K, Lagercrantz H, et al (1999). Caffeine and alcohol as risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 81(2), 107-111.