Caffeine Chemistry and Caffeine Effects

coffee filled white ceramic mug beside brown coffee beans on beige wooden surface

Caffeine, A Natural Biochemical with Significant Power and Influence

Caffeine is a biochemical that is produced exclusively in plant leaves, nuts and fruits of over 60 plants, including common tea (Camellia sinensis) leaves, coffee (Coffea arabica) and cocoa (Theobroma cacao) beans and kola (Cola acuminata) nuts and assorted berries. Caffeine also can be produced synthetically, and is commonly added to commercial drinks such as cola, sodas (pop), selected foods and diet products. This simple compound has significant biochemical and physiological effects, many beneficial and some, potentially, harmful.

A scientific inquiry of caffeine is helpful for management of personal health and wellness.

What Caffeine Is and What It Does In the Human Body

Caffeine is a simple, low molecular weight alkaloid molecule. It has three methyl groups and 2 carbonyl groups attached to a double-ringed structure (xanthine) (see photo and double click to enlarge). Caffeine is synthesized only in plants by a series of simple biochemical steps. In plants, caffeine serves as plant protective agent by causing paralysis and death of chewing insects.

Caffeine is:

  • tasteless and odorless.
  • absorbed and circulated quickly in the body.
  • detected soon after ingestion in blood and nervous tissues of the brain.
  • not stored anywhere in the body.
  • excreted in the urine several hours after it has been consumed.
  • able to stimulate brain tissue for short periods and helps overcome fatigue or drowsiness.
  • able to relieve some regular and migraine headaches.
  • an appetite suppressant.
  • unable to reverse alcohol intoxication.

Caffeine is used also as an additive to some over-the-counter medications such as cold medicines, pain relievers, and appetite suppressants.

Caffeine Undesirable and Harmful Side Effects

People who have high blood pressure or are pregnant should limit their intake of caffeine.

A woman, unable to sleep and constantly restless, solved her problem with a physician’s help when she cut back and eventually eliminated colas and chocolate from her daily diet routine.

Excessive caffeine intake may cause:

  • rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • excessive urination
  • nausea, vomiting
  • restlessness
  • anxiety, depression, tremors
  • sleeplessness.

Caffeine, Important Consumption Ideas and Recommendations

  • Moderate caffeine intake in coffee, tea, cocoa or chocolate is recommended as acceptable and not harmful for normal, healthy individuals (AMA Scientific Affairs Section).
  • Consumers, who suddenly stop caffeinating themselves, may experience drowsiness, irritability, headaches, anxiety, nausea and vomiting among several signs and symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. Progressive and slow withdrawal always is better to avoid these effects.
  • Three 8 oz. cups (24 oz.) of coffee/day (about 250 milligrams of caffeine total, or 12-15/mg/oz..) is considered an average or moderate amount of caffeine. Ten cups or 80 oz of coffee/day contains almost 1000 mg of total caffeine which is excessive.
  • Caffeine for children usually is safe in limited amounts. Control and monitoring is needed so caffeinated beverages do not suppress appetite, or replace nutritious wholesome milk. There is no nutritional requirement for caffeine — it can be completely restricted from a child’s diet. Since caffeine is a stimulant, hyperactive children should be severely limited or restricted from caffeine.
  • Limitation or avoidance of caffeine is recommended during pregnancy, peptic ulcerative disease, or hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Prescription drugs may interact with caffeine. Consultation with a pharmacist or M.D. is recommended whenever medicine and medications are involved..

So, whether it is a cup of coffee, tea, cocoa, cola, pop, or a bite or two of dark chocolate, it’s good to remember that caffeine is always a stimulating substance and topic.



Medline Plus online reference page for “Caffeine

Hagen, P. T. ed., 1999. Mayo Clinic Guide to Self-care. Mayo Clinic Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Rochester, MN., distributed by Kensington Publishing Corp., New York, N. Y.

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