See B. A Weinberg and B. K. Bealer, The World of Caffeine (2001).
Heterocyclic compound that, like other alkaloids, has marked physiological effects. It occurs in coffee beans, tea leaves, kola nuts, cacao, maté, and guarana and in the products made from them. Its stimulating effect on the central nervous system, heart, cardiovascular system, and kidneys makes it medically useful in treating respiratory depression caused by overdose of barbiturates, morphine, or heroin. Its positive effects can include improved motor performance, decreased fatigue, increased alertness, and enhanced sensory activity. Excessive caffeine can produce irritability, anxiety, insomnia, and potentially serious symptoms such as heart irregularities and delirium. Much of the caffeine included in many over-the-counter stimulants, cold remedies, and painkillers has been extracted during production of decaffeinated coffee and tea.
Learn more about caffeine with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Caffeine is a bitter white crystalline xanthine alkaloid that acts as a psychoactive stimulant drug and a mild diuretic (speeds up urine production) in humans and other animals. Caffeine was discovered by a German chemist, Friedrich Ferdinand Runge, in 1819. He coined the term "kaffein", a chemical compound in coffee, which in English became caffeine. Caffeine is also called guaranine when found in guarana, mateine when found in mate, and theine when found in tea; all of these names are synonyms for the same chemical compound.
Caffeine is found in varying quantities in the beans, leaves, and fruit of over 60 plants, where it acts as a natural pesticide that paralyzes and kills certain insects feeding on the plants. It is most commonly consumed by humans in infusions extracted from the beans of the coffee plant and the leaves of the tea bush, as well as from various foods and drinks containing products derived from the kola nut or from cacao. Other sources include yerba mate, guarana berries, and the Yaupon Holly.
In humans, caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant, having the effect of temporarily warding off drowsiness and restoring alertness. Beverages containing caffeine, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks and energy drinks enjoy great popularity. Caffeine is the world's most widely consumed psychoactive substance, but unlike most others, it is legal and unregulated in nearly all jurisdictions. In North America, 90% of adults consume caffeine daily. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists caffeine as a "Multiple Purpose Generally Recognized as Safe Food Substance". One 2008 study suggested that women consuming 200 milligrams or more of caffeine per day had about twice the miscarriage risk as women who had none, while another 2008 study found no link between miscarriage and caffeine consumption.
Caffeine is a plant alkaloid, found in many plant species, where it acts as a natural pesticide, with high caffeine levels being reported in seedlings that are still developing foliages, but are lacking mechanical protection; caffeine paralyzes and kills certain insects feeding upon the plant. High caffeine levels have also been found in the surrounding soil of coffee bean seedlings. It is therefore understood that caffeine has a natural function as both a natural pesticide and as an inhibitor of seed germination of other nearby coffee seedlings thus giving it a better chance of survival.
The most commonly used caffeine-containing plants are coffee, tea, and to a lesser extent cocoa. Other, less commonly used, sources of caffeine include the yerba mate and guarana plants, which are sometimes used in the preparation of teas and energy drinks. Two of caffeine's alternative names, mateine and guaranine, are derived from the names of these plants. Some yerba mate enthusiasts assert that mateine is a stereoisomer of caffeine, which would make it a different substance altogether. This is not true because caffeine is an achiral molecule, and therefore has no enantiomers; nor does it have other stereoisomers. The disparity in experience and effects between the various natural caffeine sources could be due to the fact that plant sources of caffeine also contain widely varying mixtures of other xanthine alkaloids, including the cardiac stimulants theophylline and theobromine and other substances such as polyphenols which can form insoluble complexes with caffeine.
The world's primary source of caffeine is the coffee bean (the seed of the coffee plant), from which coffee is brewed. Caffeine content in coffee varies widely depending on the type of coffee bean and the method of preparation used; even beans within a given bush can show variations in concentration. In general, one serving of coffee ranges from 40 milligrams, for a single shot (30 milliliters) of arabica-variety espresso, to about 100 milligrams for a cup (120 milliliters) of drip coffee. Generally, dark-roast coffee has less caffeine than lighter roasts because the roasting process reduces the bean's caffeine content. Arabica coffee normally contains less caffeine than the robusta variety. Coffee also contains trace amounts of theophylline, but no theobromine.
Tea is another common source of caffeine. Although tea contains more caffeine than coffee, a typical serving contains much less, as tea is normally brewed much weaker. Besides strength of the brew, growing conditions, processing techniques and other variables also affect caffeine content. Certain types of tea may contain somewhat more caffeine than other teas. Tea contains small amounts of theobromine and slightly higher levels of theophylline than coffee. Preparation and many other factors have a significant impact on tea, and color is a very poor indicator of caffeine content. Teas like the pale Japanese green tea gyokuro, for example, contain far more caffeine than much darker teas like lapsang souchong, which has very little.
Caffeine is also a common ingredient of soft drinks such as cola, originally prepared from kola nuts. Soft drinks typically contain about 10 to 50 milligrams of caffeine per serving. By contrast, energy drinks such as Red Bull contain as much as 80 milligrams of caffeine per serving. The caffeine in these drinks either originates from the ingredients used or is an additive derived from the product of decaffeination or from chemical synthesis. Guarana, a prime ingredient of energy drinks, contains large amounts of caffeine with small amounts of theobromine and theophylline in a naturally occurring slow-release excipient.
Chocolate derived from cocoa contains a small amount of caffeine. The weak stimulant effect of chocolate may be due to a combination of theobromine and theophylline as well as caffeine. Chocolate contains too little of these compounds for a reasonable serving to create effects in humans that are on par with coffee. A typical 28-gram serving of a milk chocolate bar has about as much caffeine as a cup of decaffeinated coffee.
In recent years various manufacturers have begun putting caffeine into shower products such as shampoo and soap, claiming that caffeine can be absorbed through the skin. However, the effectiveness of such products has not been proven, and they are likely to have little stimulatory effect on the central nervous system because caffeine is not readily absorbed through the skin.
In recent years various manufacturers have begun putting caffeine into tablets, claiming that using caffeine of pharmaceutical quality improves mental alertness and is used by students that are studying for their exams. It is also used by people who work or drive for long hours.
Stone Age. Early peoples found that chewing the seeds, bark, or leaves of certain plants had the effects of easing fatigue, stimulating awareness, and elevating one's mood. Only much later was it found that the effect of caffeine was increased by steeping such plants in hot water. Many cultures have legends that attribute the discovery of such plants to people living many thousands of years ago.
According to one popular Chinese legend, the Emperor of China Shennong, reputed to have reigned in about 3000 BC, accidentally discovered that when some leaves fell into boiling water, a fragrant and restorative drink resulted. Shennong is also mentioned in Lu Yu's Cha Jing, a famous early work on the subject of tea. The history of coffee has been recorded as far back as the ninth century. During that time, coffee beans were available only in their native habitat, Ethiopia. A popular legend traces its discovery to a goatherder named Kaldi, who apparently observed goats that became elated and sleepless at night after browsing on coffee shrubs and, upon trying the berries that the goats had been eating, experienced the same vitality. The earliest literary mention of coffee may be a reference to Bunchum in the works of the 9th century Persian physician al-Razi. In 1587, Malaye Jaziri compiled a work tracing the history and legal controversies of coffee, entitled "Undat al safwa fi hill al-qahwa". In this work, Jaziri recorded that one Sheikh, Jamal-al-Din al-Dhabhani, mufti of Aden, was the first to adopt the use of coffee in 1454, and that in the 15th century the Sufis of Yemen routinely used coffee to stay awake during prayers.
Towards the close of the 16th century, the use of coffee was recorded by a European resident in Egypt, and about this time it came into general use in the Near East. The appreciation of coffee as a beverage in Europe, where it was first known as "Arabian wine," dates from the 17th century. During this time "coffee houses" were established, the first being opened in Constantinople and Venice. In Britain, the first coffee houses were opened in London in 1652, at St Michael's Alley, Cornhill. They soon became popular throughout Western Europe, and played a significant role in social relations in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The kola nut, like the coffee berry and tea leaf, appears to have ancient origins. It is chewed in many West African cultures, individually or in a social setting, to restore vitality and ease hunger pangs. In 1911, kola became the focus of one of the earliest documented health scares when the US government seized 40 barrels and 20 kegs of Coca-Cola syrup in Chattanooga, Tennessee, alleging that the caffeine in its drink was "injurious to health". On March 13, 1911, the government initiated The United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola, hoping to force Coca-Cola to remove caffeine from its formula by making claims, such as that the excessive use of Coca-Cola at one girls' school led to "wild nocturnal freaks, violations of college rules and female proprieties, and even immoralities." Although the judge ruled in favor of Coca-Cola, two bills were introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1912 to amend the Pure Food and Drug Act, adding caffeine to the list of "habit-forming" and "deleterious" substances which must be listed on a product's label.
The earliest evidence of cocoa use comes from residue found in an ancient Mayan pot dated to 600 BC. In the New World, chocolate was consumed in a bitter and spicy drink called xocoatl, often seasoned with vanilla, chile pepper, and achiote. Xocoatl was believed to fight fatigue, a belief that is probably attributable to the theobromine and caffeine content. Chocolate was an important luxury good throughout pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and cocoa beans were often used as currency.
Chocolate was introduced to Europe by the Spaniards and became a popular beverage by 1700. They also introduced the cacao tree into the West Indies and the Philippines. It was used in alchemical processes, where it was known as Black Bean.
The leaves and stems of the Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) were used by Native Americans to brew a tea called Asi or the Black Drink the use of which among Native American groups archaeologists have demonstrated to stretch back far into antiquity, possibly dating to Late Archaic times.
In 1819, the German chemist Friedrich Ferdinand Runge isolated relatively pure caffeine for the first time. According to Runge, he did this at the behest of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In 1827, Oudry isolated "theine" from tea, but it was later proved by Mulder and Jobat that theine was the same as caffeine. The structure of caffeine was elucidated near the end of the 19th century by Hermann Emil Fischer, who was also the first to achieve its total synthesis. This was part of the work for which Fischer was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1902.
Today, global consumption of caffeine has been estimated at 120,000 tonnes per annum, making it the world's most popular psychoactive substance. This number equates to one serving of a caffeine beverage for every person, per day. In North America, 90% of adults consume some amount of caffeine daily.
Caffeine is completely absorbed by the stomach and small intestine within 45 minutes of ingestion. After ingestion it is distributed throughout all tissues of the body and is eliminated by first-order kinetics. Caffeine can also be ingested rectally, evidenced by the formulation of suppositories of ergotamine tartrate and caffeine (for the relief of migraine) and chlorobutanol and caffeine (for the treatment of hyperemesis).
The half-life of caffeine—the time required for the body to eliminate one-half of the total amount of caffeine consumed at a given time—varies widely among individuals according to such factors as age, liver function, pregnancy, some concurrent medications, and the level of enzymes in the liver needed for caffeine metabolism. In healthy adults, caffeine's half-life is approximately 3–4 hours. In women taking oral contraceptives this is increased to 5–10 hours, and in pregnant women the half-life is roughly 9–11 hours. Caffeine can accumulate in individuals with severe liver disease, increasing its half-life up to 96 hours. In infants and young children, the half-life may be longer than in adults; half-life in a newborn baby may be as long as 30 hours. Other factors such as smoking can shorten caffeine's half-life.
Caffeine is metabolized in the liver by the cytochrome P450 oxidase enzyme system (specifically, the 1A2 isozyme) into three metabolic dimethylxanthines, which each have their own effects on the body:
Each of these metabolites is further metabolized and then excreted in the urine.
Like alcohol and nicotine, caffeine readily crosses the blood–brain barrier that separates the bloodstream from the interior of the brain. Once in the brain, the principal mode of action is as an antagonist of adenosine receptors. The caffeine molecule is structurally similar to adenosine, and binds to adenosine receptors on the surface of cells without activating them (an "antagonist" mechanism of action). Therefore, caffeine acts as a competitive inhibitor.
Adenosine is found in every part of the body, because it plays a role in the fundamental ATP-related energy-metabolizing system, but it has special functions in the brain. There is a great deal of evidence that brain adenosine concentrations are increased by various types of metabolic stress (including anoxia and ischemia), and act to protect the brain by suppressing neural activity, and by reducing blood flow. Thus caffeine, by counteracting adenosine, has a generally disinhibitory effect on brain activity. Exactly how these effects translate into increases in arousal and alertness is a difficult question, though.
Adenosine release mechanisms in the brain are complex. There is evidence that adenosine functions as a synaptically released neurotransmitter in some cases, but stress-related adenosine increases appear to be produced mainly by extracellular metabolism of ATP. It is not likely that adenosine is the primary neurotransmitter for any group of neurons, but rather that it is released together with other transmitters by a number of neuron types. Unlike most neurotransmitters, adenosine does not seem to be packaged into vesicles that are released in a voltage-controlled manner, but the possibility of such a mechanism has not been completely ruled out.
Several classes of adenosine receptors have been described, with different anatomical distributions. A1 receptors are widely distributed, and act to inhibit Calcium uptake. A2A receptors are heavily concentrated in the basal ganglia, an area that plays a critical role in behavior control, but can be found in other parts of the brain as well, in lower densities. There is evidence that A 2A receptors interact with the dopamine system, which is involved in reward and arousal. (A2A receptors can also be found on arterial walls and blood cell membranes.)
Beyond its general neuroprotective effects, there are reasons to believe that adenosine may be more specifically involved in control of the sleep-wake cycle. McCarley and his colleagues have argued that accumulation of adenosine may be a primary cause of the sensation of sleepiness that follows prolonged mental activity, and that the effects may be mediated both by inhibition of wake-promoting neurons via A1 receptors, and activation of sleep-promoting neurons via indirect effects on A2A receptors. More recent studies have provided additional evidence for the importance of A2A, but not A1, receptors.
Some of the secondary effects of caffeine are probably caused by actions unrelated to adenosine. Caffeine is known to be a competitive inhibitor of the enzyme cAMP-phosphodiesterase (cAMP-PDE), which converts cyclic AMP (cAMP) in cells to its noncyclic form, allowing cAMP to build up in cells. Cyclic AMP participates in activation of Protein Kinase A (PKA) to begin the phosphorylation of specific enzymes used in glucose synthesis. By blocking its removal caffeine intensifies and prolongs the effects of epinephrine and epinephrine-like drugs such as amphetamine, methamphetamine, or methylphenidate. Increased concentrations of cAMP in parietal cells causes an increased activation of protein kinase A (PKA) which in turn increases activation of H+/K+ ATPase, resulting finally in increased gastric acid secretion by the cell.
Metabolites of caffeine also contribute to caffeine's effects. Theobromine is a vasodilator that increases the amount of oxygen and nutrient flow to the brain and muscles. Theophylline, the second of the three primary metabolites, acts as a smooth muscle relaxant that chiefly affects bronchioles and acts as a chronotrope and inotrope that increases heart rate and efficiency. The third metabolic derivative, paraxanthine, is responsible for an increase in the lipolysis process, which releases glycerol and fatty acids into the blood to be used as a source of fuel by the muscles.
With these effects, caffeine is an ergogenic: increasing the capacity for mental or physical labor. A study conducted in 1979 showed a 7% increase in distance cycled over a period of two hours in subjects who consumed caffeine compared to control subjects. Other studies attained much more dramatic results; one particular study of trained runners showed a 44% increase in "race-pace" endurance, as well as a 51% increase in cycling endurance, after a dosage of 9 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body weight. The extensive boost shown in the runners is not an isolated case; additional studies have reported similar effects. Another study found 5.5 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram of body mass resulted in subjects cycling 29% longer during high intensity circuits.
Caffeine citrate has proven to be of short and long term benefit in treating the breathing disorders of apnea of prematurity and bronchopulmonary displasia in premature infants. The only short term risk associated with caffeine citrate treatment is a temporary reduction in weight gain during the therapy, and longer term studies (18 to 21 months) have shown lasting benefits of treatment of premature infants with caffeine.
While relatively safe for humans, caffeine is considerably more toxic to some other animals such as dogs, horses and parrots due to a much poorer ability to metabolize this compound. Caffeine has a much more significant effect on spiders, for example, than most other drugs do.
|Product||Serving size||Caffeine per serving (mg)||Caffeine per litre (mg)|
|Caffeine tablet (regular strength)||1 tablet||100||—|
|Caffeine tablet (extra strength)||1 tablet||200||—|
|Excedrin tablet||1 tablet||65||—|
|Chocolate, Dark (Hershey's Special Dark)||31||—|
|Chocolate, Milk (Hershey Bar)||10||—|
|Tea, leaf or bag||50||281|
|Soft drink, Coca-Cola Classic||34||96|
|Soft drink, Mountain Dew||54.5||154|
|Soft drink, Jolt Cola||280||402|
|Foosh Energy Mints||1 mint||100||—|
|Buzz Bites||1 chew||100||—|
|Buckfast Tonic Wine||281||375|
Because caffeine is primarily an antagonist of the central nervous system's receptors for the neurotransmitter adenosine, the bodies of individuals who regularly consume caffeine adapt to the continual presence of the drug by substantially increasing the number of adenosine receptors in the central nervous system. This increase in the number of the adenosine receptors makes the body much more sensitive to adenosine, with two primary consequences. First, the stimulatory effects of caffeine are substantially reduced, a phenomenon known as a tolerance adaptation. Second, because these adaptive responses to caffeine make individuals much more sensitive to adenosine, a reduction in caffeine intake will effectively increase the normal physiological effects of adenosine, resulting in unwelcome withdrawal symptoms in tolerant users.
Other research questions the idea that up-regulation of adenosine receptors is responsible for tolerance to the locomotor stimulant effects of caffeine, noting, among other things, that this tolerance is insurmountable by higher doses of caffeine (it should be surmountable if tolerance was due to an increase in receptors), and that the increase in adenosine receptor number is modest and does not explain the large tolerance which develops to caffeine.
Caffeine tolerance develops very quickly, especially among heavy coffee and energy drink consumers. Complete tolerance to sleep disruption effects of caffeine develops after consuming 400 mg of caffeine 3 times a day for 7 days. Complete tolerance to subjective effects of caffeine was observed to develop after consuming 300 mg 3 times per day for 18 days, and possibly even earlier. In another experiment, complete tolerance of caffeine was observed when the subject consumed 750–1200 mg per day while incomplete tolerance to caffeine has been observed in those that consume more average doses of caffeine.
Because adenosine, in part, serves to regulate blood pressure by causing vasodilation, the increased effects of adenosine due to caffeine withdrawal cause the blood vessels of the head to dilate, leading to an excess of blood in the head and causing a headache and nausea. Reduced catecholamine activity may cause feelings of fatigue and drowsiness. A reduction in serotonin levels when caffeine use is stopped can cause anxiety, irritability, inability to concentrate and diminished motivation to initiate or to complete daily tasks; in extreme cases it may cause mild depression. Together, these effects have come to be known as a "crash".
Withdrawal symptoms—possibly including headache, irritability, an inability to concentrate, and stomach aches—may appear within 12 to 24 hours after discontinuation of caffeine intake, peak at roughly 48 hours, and usually last from one to five days, representing the time required for the number of adenosine receptors in the brain to revert to "normal" levels, uninfluenced by caffeine consumption. Analgesics, such as aspirin, can relieve the pain symptoms, as can a small dose of caffeine. Most effective is a combination of both an analgesic and a small amount of caffeine.
This is not the only case where caffeine increases the effectiveness of a drug. Caffeine makes pain relievers 40% more effective in relieving headaches and helps the body absorb headache medications more quickly, bringing faster relief. For this reason, many over-the-counter headache drugs include caffeine in their formula. It is also used with ergotamine in the treatment of migraine and cluster headaches as well as to overcome the drowsiness caused by antihistamines.
There are four caffeine-induced psychiatric disorders recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition: caffeine intoxication, caffeine-induced anxiety disorder, caffeine-induced sleep disorder, and caffeine-related disorder not otherwise specified (NOS).
In cases of extreme overdose, death can result. The median lethal dose (LD50) given orally, is 192 milligrams per kilogram in rats. The LD50 of caffeine in humans is dependent on weight and individual sensitivity and estimated to be about 150 to 200 milligrams per kilogram of body mass, roughly 80 to 100 cups of coffee for an average adult taken within a limited time frame that is dependent on half-life. Though achieving lethal dose with caffeine would be exceptionally difficult with regular coffee, there have been reported deaths from overdosing on caffeine pills, with serious symptoms of overdose requiring hospitalization occurring from as little as 2 grams of caffeine. Death typically occurs due to ventricular fibrillation brought about by effects of caffeine on the cardiovascular system.
Treatment of severe caffeine intoxication is generally supportive, providing treatment of the immediate symptoms, but if the patient has very high serum levels of caffeine then peritoneal dialysis, hemodialysis, or hemofiltration may be required.
In the case of caffeine-induced sleep disorder, an individual regularly ingests high doses of caffeine sufficient to induce a significant disturbance in his or her sleep, sufficiently severe to warrant clinical attention.
In some individuals, the large amounts of caffeine can induce anxiety severe enough to necessitate clinical attention. This caffeine-induced anxiety disorder can take many forms, from generalized anxiety to panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, or even phobic symptoms. Because this condition can mimic organic mental disorders, such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or even schizophrenia, a number of medical professionals believe caffeine-intoxicated people are routinely misdiagnosed and unnecessarily medicated when the treatment for caffeine-induced psychosis would simply be to stop further caffeine intake. A study in the British Journal of Addiction concluded that caffeinism, although infrequently diagnosed, may afflict as many as one person in ten of the population.
Researchers have found that long-term consumption of low dose caffeine slowed hippocampus-dependent learning and impaired long-term memory. Caffeine consumption for 4 weeks also significantly reduced hippocampal neurogenesis compared to controls during the experiment. The conclusion was that long-term consumption of caffeine could inhibit hippocampus-dependent learning and memory partially through inhibition of hippocampal neurogenesis.
In one study, caffeine was added to rat neurons in vitro. The dendritic spines (a part of the brain cell used in forming connections between neurons) taken from the hippocampus (a part of the brain associated with memory) grew by 33% and new spines formed. After an hour or two, however, these cells returned to their original shape.
Another study showed that subjects—after receiving 100 milligrams of caffeine—had increased activity in brain regions located in the frontal lobe, where a part of the working memory network is located, and the anterior cingulum, a part of the brain that controls attention. The caffeinated subjects also performed better on the memory tasks.
However, a different study showed that caffeine could impair short term memory and increase the likelihood of the tip of the tongue phenomenon. The study allowed the researchers to suggest that caffeine could aid short-term memory when the information to be recalled is related to the current train of thought, but also to hypothesize that caffeine hinders short-term memory when the train of thought is unrelated. In essence, focused thought coupled with caffeine consumption increases mental performance.
Dr De-Kun Li of Kaiser Permanente Division of Research, which appears in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, concludes that an intake of 200 milligrams or more per day, representing two or more cups, "significantly increases the risk of miscarriage". However, Dr. David Savitz, a professor in community and preventive medicine at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine and lead author of the other new study on the subject published in the January issue of Epidemiology, found no link between miscarriage and caffeine consumption.
Caffeine extracted from coffee and tea during the decaffeination process is sold or used as an additive. Being readily available as a byproduct of decaffeination, caffeine is not usually synthesized. If desired, it may be synthesized from dimethyl urea and malonic acid.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has said the following in regards to caffeinated beverages, “With reference to cola drinks, the Church has never officially taken a position on this matter, but the leaders of the Church have advised, and we do now specifically advise, against the use of any drink containing harmful habit-forming drugs under circumstances that would result in acquiring the habit. Any beverage that contains ingredients harmful to the body should be avoided.” (Priesthood Bulletin, Feb. 1972, p. 4.) See also Word of Wisdom.
Gaudiya Vaishnava Hindus generally also abstain from caffeine, as it is alleged to cloud the mind and over-stimulate the senses. To be initiated under a guru, one must have had no caffeine (along with alcohol, nicotine and other drugs) for at least a year.
|In general, each of the following contains approximately 200 milligrams of caffeine: |
a. Chocolate and other products of cacao contain substantial quantities of other caffeine-like chemicals (especially theobromine) as well as actual caffeine. The properties of these substances are in at least some respects very similar to caffeine.