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It has been estimated that today at least half the world's population drinks tea containing caffeine and its chemical cousins, theophylline and theobromine.1 Coffee is the second most traded commodity in the world; only petroleum is bigger. Per capita consumption of caffeine in the United States, from all sources, (eg, coffee, tea, cocoa, chocolate, and cola) is around 200 mg. per day.

Today, in our newly health-conscious society, caffeine has come received some bad press. Many people feel let-down and jittery after drinking several cups of coffee; some say it causes cancer; others say it promotes cardiovascular disease; still others point to its alleged tendency to cause gastrointestinal irritation, diarrhea, or constipation. Research has shown, though, that most of the problems blamed on caffeine are really caused by oils and other natural components of the coffee or tea plant.

"Caffeine is a very safe recreational drug; it is not a carcinogen," according to Durk Pearson in a recent interview. Pearson points out that it's the depletion of the neurotransmitter noradrenaline in the brain by several cups of caffeinated coffee that's responsible for the let-down and jittery feelings. Pearson and coformulator Sandy Shaw combined caffeine with the amino acid phenylalanine in BLAST, FAST BLAST, and BLAST CAPS to help prevent this after-effect. The body converts phenylalanine into noradrenaline, thus restoring the neurotransmitter even as it gets used up by the caffeine.

It's also the essential oils in coffee, not the caffeine, that cause gastrointestinal distress. In tea, it's the tannin that causes constipation. In addition, the fats and oils in coffee, even decaffeinated coffee, are the potent elevators of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol). Pearson observes that just 1.2 grams per day of fats extracted from the coffee bean (about 1/2 teaspoon) can increase LDL levels by as much as 40%! Caffeine has no such effect. If you drink coffee and want to reduce the fats and oils, Pearson recommends preparing it in a drip coffee-maker with a disposable paper filter. Unlike metal filters, the paper soaks up the oils, reducing the amount that gets into your cup. Never percolate or boil the coffee.

No matter what its source, caffeine seems here to stay. According to Goodman and Gilman, the "bible" of the science of pharmacology, "The feeling of well-being and the increased performance [caffeine] affords…are experiences that few individuals would care to give up."

  1. Rall TW. Central nervous system stimulants: The methylxanthines. In Gilman AG, Goodman LS, Rall TW, Murad F (eds), Goodman and Gilman's The Pharmacological Basis of Therapeutics (Seventh Edition). New York; Macmillan, 1985:589-603

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