Tag Archives: caffeine

That morning cup of coffee? It’s not enough to tackle sleep deprivation

If you stayed up all night catching up on Netflix or if your neighbor’s dog was too noisy and you couldn’t sleep, a big coffee in the morning is usually the way to power through the rest of the day. As it turns out, caffeine can only get you so far. 

Image credit: Flickr / Jen.

Caffeine is a fast-acting stimulant that works on the central nervous system. It can increase blood pressure and heart rate, boost energy levels, and improve overall mood. Coffee accounts for 54% of caffeine consumption in the world, while tea accounts for another 43%. A normal dose is about 50 mg to 200 milligrams. 

We can experience the effects of caffeine right after consuming it, and the effects will continue to last for as long as the caffeine remains in your body. According to the US Academy of Sleep Medicine, caffeine’s half-life is up to 5 hours. However, many people see it as a magical cure against sleep deprivation — and that it is not.

Now, researchers from Michigan State University’s Sleep and Learning Lab looked at how effective caffeine was in counteracting the negative effects of sleep deprivation on cognition. They assessed the impact of caffeine after a night of sleep deprivation, asking 275 participants to complete a set of tasks, from simple to difficult ones. 

Participants were randomly assigned to either stay awake overnight in the lab or sleep at home. In the morning, those who slept returned to the lab, and all participants consumed a capsule that contained either 200 mg of caffeine or a placebo. After an absorption period, all participants completed simple and complex attention tasks. 

The researchers found that sleep deprivation impaired performance on both types of tasks and that having caffeine helped people successfully achieve the easier task. However, caffeine had a limited effect on performance on the complex tasks, which he participants had to be do in a specific order without skipping or repeating steps. 

“Caffeine may improve the ability to stay awake and attend to a task, but it doesn’t do much to prevent the sort of procedural errors that can cause things like medical mistakes and car accidents,” Kimberly Fenn, lead author, explained the findings in a statement. “Caffeine increases energy and reduces sleepiness but it absolutely does not replace a full night of sleep.”

Fenn and her team highlighted that while people may fell that they can tackle sleep deprivation with caffeine, their performance on higher-level tasks will likely be affected – as seen in the study. This is why sleep deprivation can be dangerous. Lacking adequate sleep affects cognition, alters mood and can take a toll on immunity, they added. 

That’s why it’s important to consider other ways to naturally increase your energy levels without caffeine. Some of the following options can help: drinking more water, eating lots of plant-based food, which may provide energy, exercising daily, but not too close to bedtime, avoiding long daytime naps and getting at least 7 hours of sleep — preferably 8 or more.

“If we had found that caffeine significantly reduced procedural errors under conditions of sleep deprivation, this would have broad implications for individuals who must perform high stakes procedures with insufficient sleep, like surgeons, pilots and police officers. Instead, our findings underscore the importance of prioritizing sleep,” Fenn said. 

The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

Drinking coffee daily is associated with less gray matter in the brain

Credit: Pixabay.

A surprising new study found daily caffeine consumption alters the brain’s structure. Specifically, those who regularly used caffeine had less gray matter volume in their brains compared to those that didn’t use the drug at all. The researchers caution that this doesn’t mean that caffeine causes negative cognitive effects. So, don’t throw out your coffee from the cupboard just yet.

It seems like every day there’s a new scientific study on coffee’s effects on our health. Some report that caffeine has positive effects while others report on its downsides. It’s not rare to find two different studies reaching two seemingly opposite conclusions. If you’re confused, you’re not alone.

Luckily, despite some occasional confusing conclusions, the net effect of caffeine seems to be positive. Moderate caffeine intake increases the metabolism promoting weight loss, reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes significantly, lowers the risk for cardiovascular diseases, and represents an important source of antioxidants.

Caffeine also seems to offer protective effects for the brain. Besides stimulating dopamine and glutamate, which makes you start feeling alert and awake, caffeine has been associated with slowing cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

But that’s not all it does. While caffeine makes us more alert during the day, it can also disrupt sleep if consumed in the evening or close to bedtime. Previous research showed that sleep deprivation is associated with changes in the gray matter of the brain.

Gray matter, named for its pinkish-gray color, is home to neuronal cell bodies, axon terminals, and dendrites, as well as all nerve synapses. White matter areas of the brain mainly consist of myelinated axons, which form connections between brain cells.

In a new study, researchers from the University of Basel wanted to investigate more closely whether caffeine consumption can affect brain structure.

The researchers recruited 20 healthy individuals, all of whom drink coffee on a daily basis. Each participant was given tablets over two 10-day periods, during which they had to abstain from consuming any caffeine products.

During one 10-day window, the tablets that they were given contained caffeine, while in the other period the tablets had no active ingredient, acting as the placebo or control group.

At the end of each 10-day period, the subjects’ gray matter volume was measured by scanning the brain. Sleep quality was also assessed by recording the electrical activity of the brain with EEG.

The results were rather surprising. The data comparison between the two groups showed no significant differences in the depth and quality of sleep. In other words, those who ingested the caffeine tablets didn’t show signs of sleep deprivation.

However, the group that ingested the caffeine tablets saw a significant decrease in gray matter volume. The difference was particularly striking in the right medial temporal lobe, including the hippocampus, a region of the brain that is essential to memory consolidation, the researchers wrote. They add that these results are not actually concerning.

“Our results do not necessarily mean that caffeine consumption has a negative impact on the brain,” Dr. Carolin Reichert of the University of Basel said in a statement . “But daily caffeine consumption evidently affects our cognitive hardware, which in itself should give rise to further studies.” 

Previous studies that have analyzed gray matter in association with caffeine intake have tended to focus on older patients, rather than young healthy subjects as in the present study. This may explain why the kind of temporary neural plasticity reported by the study has not been observed before.

“The changes in brain morphology seem to be temporary, but systematic comparisons between coffee drinkers and those who usually consume little or no caffeine have so far been lacking,” says Reichert.

The findings appeared in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

Caffeine solar cell.

Researchers figure out how coffee can boost (some) solar cells

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Solargiga Energy in China have tried to perk up solar panels with coffee. It worked.

Caffeine solar cell.

One of the solar cells the team made using the new method.
Image credits Rui Wang and Jingjing Xue.

The team reports that caffeine can help improve the efficiency with which perovskite solar panels convert light to electricity. The finding could help them a more competitive and cost-effective alternative to silicon solar cells.

Wakey, wakey

“One day, as we were discussing perovskite solar cells, our colleague Rui Wang said, ‘If we need coffee to boost our energy then what about perovskites? Would they need coffee to perform better?'” recalls Jingjing Xue, a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at UCLA and co-lead author of the study.

After, presumably, a few rounds of hearty laughs, the team set their cups down and set to work on trying to see if the idea has any value.

The authors have previously worked on improving the thermal stability of perovskite materials — the blue compounds with a particular crystal structure that forms the light-harvesting layer certain solar cells — to make them more efficient at harvesting sunlight. Part of that work involved trying to strengthen the material with additives such as dimethyl sulfoxide, an approach which showed some success in the short term, but wasn’t stable over longer spans of time. Caffeine, however, is an alkaloid compound whose molecular structures could, the team suspected based on their previous experience, interact with the precursors used to make perovskite materials.

So, they set out to add caffeine to the perovskite layer of forty solar cells and used infrared spectroscopy, an approach that uses infrared radiation to identify a sample’s chemical components, to determine if the materials bonded. They had.

Further infrared spectroscopy tests showed that carbonyl groups (a carbon atom double bonded to an oxygen) in caffeine tied to lead ions in the perovskite layer to form a “molecular lock”. This lock increases the minimum amount of energy needed for the perovskite layer to react to sunlight, boosting the solar cell efficiency from 17% to over 20%. This lock stood firm when the material was heated, which suggests that caffeine could also help to make the solar cells more thermally-stable.

“We were surprised by the results,” says Wang, who is also a Ph.D. candidate in Yang’s research group at UCLA. “During our first try incorporating caffeine, our perovskite solar cells already reached almost the highest efficiency we achieved in the paper.”

The caveat, or caffeat if you so prefer, is that this approach likely won’t work with other types of solar cells. It only works here because it can tie into the unique molecular structure of perovskite precursors. However, it may be enough to give this type of solar cell variety an edge on the market.

Currently, perovskite solar cells are the cheaper and more flexible option available on the market. They’re also easier to manufacture, as they can be fabricated from liquid precursors — their silicon counterparts are cast from solid crystal ingots. Wang believes that caffeine might make them even easier to fabricate on a large scale, in addition to making them more efficient.

“Caffeine can help the perovskite achieve high crystallinity, low defects, and good stability,” he says. “This means it can potentially play a role in the scalable production of perovskite solar cells.”

The team plans to continue their efforts by investigating the chemical structure of the caffeine-infused perovskite crystals and identify what materials would best serve as a protective layer for the solar cells.

The paper “Caffeine Improves the Performance and Thermal Stability of Perovskite Solar Cells” has been published in the journal Joule.


Is Coffee good or bad? A critical view on the science behind it


Credit: Pixabay.

Coffee is a beloved drink (or fuel) for millions of people around the world. It’s also one of the most well-studied beverages in the world — so much so that it can be extremely confusing to navigate its scientific literature. It seems like every day there’s a new study on coffee’s health benefits but also, conversely, its downsides. Which begs the question: is coffee good or bad?

The black fuel that sends your metabolism into overdrive

Caffeine (1,3,7-trimethylxanthine), the main stimulant found in coffee — but also in tea, soft drinks, chocolate, and some nuts — has many metabolic effects. Besides caffeine, coffee contains other substances with important metabolic effects such as theobromine (main stimulant found in cocoas), theophylline (may be good for treating asthma), and chlorogenic acid (may slow down carbohydrate absorption).

One of the most familiar feelings people associate with coffee is “awakeness” — after all, so many people use coffee on a daily basis in their morning routines. Within 15 minutes of the first sip, caffeine is known to boost mental alertness and cognitive functioning, as well as enhancing physical performance by improving endurance and reaction time.

It does so by latching onto and blocking receptors in the brain for adenosine, a chemical which is produced by neurons throughout the day. When adenosine levels are high, the body’s metabolism slows down, priming you for sleep. With adenosine out of the way, the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, which are natural stimulants generated in the brain, are free to do their magic. You start feeling more alert and awake, as a consequence.

But, as every coffee ‘addict’ knows, this effect lessens over time because of an annoying thing called tolerance. So you’ll need to do intake more and more caffeine to achieve the same level of stimulation from dopamine and glutamate.

What caffeine does to the body

While stimulating the nervous system, caffeine also signals fat cells to break down, releasing fatty acids in the bloodstream. This also means that the body has more glycogen available in the muscles to burn during a workout, enhancing endurance. In the same vein, caffeine has been found to influence the energy balance by increasing energy expenditure and decreasing energy intake, hence it can be a weight regulator for some people. It’s no surprise that caffeine is often found in weight loss products. Counter-intuitively, the increase in metabolism is less pronounced for obese individuals. One study, for instance, found that caffeine increased lipid oxidation by as much as 29% in lean women, while the increase was only about 10% in obese women. Again, the effects may be less pronounced in regular coffee consumers and decline with age. If the main reason you’re using coffee is for weight loss, you might want to alternate your patterns of consumption — for instance, use coffee for two weeks, stop for the next two weeks to prevent tolerance, and then reset.

Some studies show that drinking three or four cups of coffee a day could reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 25% compared to consuming no coffee or less than two cups daily. Caffeinated coffee may improve glycaemic metabolism by reducing the glucose curve and increasing the insulin response. But before you hurry to the supermarket to buy all the coffee on the shelves, bear in mind that there is a lot of conflicting information about coffee.

A 2017 study found five out the seven studies it analyzed concluded that caffeine intake increases blood glucose levels, and prolongs the period of high blood glucose levels in individuals with diabetes. Another study found that acute caffeine consumption in healthy individuals significantly decreased insulin sensitivity, potentially leading to high blood sugar. So drinking a lot of coffee (more than seven cups/day) may actually cause you to put on more weight and increase the risk of developing diabetes.

An old idea is that you shouldn’t drink coffee if you have heart problems, but the opposite may be true. Drinking around four cups of coffee every day promotes the movement of a regulatory protein into mitochondria, which may prevent cardiovascular and cellular damage. An earlier report, published in 2017 in the journal Annual Review of Nutrition, analyzed the results of more than 100 coffee and caffeine studies, finding that coffee was associated with a probable decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

What’s less ambiguous is that coffee is the most widely used dietary source of antioxidants in the world. Antioxidants are important because they pair with so-called “free radicals”, which are molecules with unpaired electrons that can damage cells and DNA. Among the many antioxidants found in coffee, the most effective are hydrocinnamic acids and polyphenols. This antioxidation effect is thought to protect the body against aging and many diseases that are partly caused by oxidative stress, including liver disease, Parkinson’s, various types of inflammation, and even cancer.

Effects can vary from person to person, hence the conflicting information

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Conflicting information about the effects of coffee abound. Until not too long ago, the World Health Organization classified coffee as “possibly” carcinogenic, but later reversed the statement stating that evidence for the association between coffee and cancer is inadequate. As mentioned earlier, the same conflicting evidence can be seen for cardiovascular disease. Perhaps the reason so many studies come up with so many different conclusions is that every person is different to a degree, especially in the way they metabolize substances.

According to researchers at the University of Toronto, one particular gene may have an important say in the matter. The gene identified by the researchers, called YP1A2, controls an enzyme that determines how quickly our bodies break down caffeine. Individuals who have a certain variant of the gene can metabolize caffeine four times faster than people who inherit one or more copies of the slow variant of the gene. Previously, the same team of researchers led by Ahmed El-Sohemy, a professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, had studied 4,000 adults, including about 2,000 who had previously had a heart attack. The results suggested that ingesting four or more cups of coffee per day was associated with a 36% increased risk of a heart attack. However, when the participants were split into groups (fast metabolizers and slow metabolizers), the authors found that acute coffee intake was associated with increased heart attack risk only in the slow metabolizer group.

Slow metabolizers keep caffeine in their system for longer, offering it more time to trigger harmful effects such as heart attacks. On the other hand, fast metabolizers may allow antioxidants, polyphenols and coffee’s other healthful compounds to kick in without the side effects of caffeine because the stimulant is flushed out of the system fast.

And in all likelihood, there may be many other genetic and environmental factors contributing to differences in caffeine metabolism.

Coffee seems to do more good than harm

Many studies that investigate the health outcomes of caffeine can use different methodologies, demographics, or can simply be flawed. Overall, however, studies seem to point to net benefits of drinking coffee — although how fast you metabolize the stimulant seems to play a key role. An umbrella review published in the prestigious British Medical Journal — which included more than 200 meta-analyses of observational and interventional studies of coffee consumption and any health outcome — found that “coffee consumption was more often associated with benefit than harm.” Three to four cups of coffee reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, kidney stones, gout, and several types of cancer, including endometrial, skin, prostate and liver cancer. The only vulnerable group which the authors identified was pregnant women, who are at an increased risk of bone fracture.

“Coffee consumption seems generally safe within usual levels of intake, with summary estimates indicating largest risk reduction for various health outcomes at three to four cups a day, and more likely to benefit health than harm,” the researchers concluded.

Some die-hard fans might consider what I’m about to say next as heresy, but there is such a thing as too much coffee. In fact, you can even overdose (and risk dying) from too much caffeine — although that would be quite challenging to do on coffee alone. If you weigh 60 kg, you’d need to drink around 55 cups of coffee to overdose — but be aware that energy drinks have a high concentration of caffeine which makes it easy to overdose if you use them in quick succession. According to one study, there have been only 45 deaths related to caffeine reported between 1959 and 2010.

You don’t have to overdose to feel unpleasant side effects. Going above 400 mg daily, the recommended dose for adults, can cause jitteriness, insomnia, and irritability. So, moderation is key — just like with everything else in life. And if you actually decide to take a break, be prepared to face withdrawal symptoms such as feeling anxious, irritable, and drowsy. Luckily, these side effects are temporary and fade within 3 to 10 days.

Bottom line: evidence points to the fact that coffee does more good than harm, indicating that it can be part of a healthful diet.

[NOW READ] How to brew the perfect espresso with chemistry


Coffee cup.

More bang for your cup: new algorithm determines ideal caffeine intake for the best results

New research into the world’s favorite stimulant offers clues as to when and how much coffee you should drink to stay at peak performance.

Coffee cup.

Image credits Myriam / Pixabay.

Few things get you on your feet as effectively as a nice, warm cup of coffee. It’s not surprising, then, that the beverage is among the most widely-consumed in the world — and just like its main ‘competitor’, tea, there’s a rich culture surrounding it. But how much coffee should you drink to get the benefits without becoming a twitchy shell of a man?

Thanks to a new algorithm developed for the US Army, we now know exactly how much of it you should have to maximize alertness when experiencing lack of sleep.

Pvt. Coffee

“Our algorithm is the first quantitative tool that provides automated, customized guidance for safe and effective caffeine dosing to maximize alertness at the most needed times during any sleep-loss condition,” said senior author Jaques Reifman, PhD.

Reifman, a senior researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command in Ft. Detrick, Maryland, and his team developed the algorithm starting from a mathematical model which predicts the effects sleep loss or caffeine intake has on psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) performance. This gave them the means to estimate what effects tiredness or a cup of coffee would have on a subject’s state.

PVTs are essentially simple response time tests. They were conducted at various times over several days and recorded alongside a subject’s caffeine-intake schedule.

The second part of the algorithm works from the raw data this mathematical model provides to determine how much caffeine that subject should consume to keep alertness at peak levels — even during sleep loss. Users provide their sleep/wake schedule and the maximum quantity of caffeine they’re willing to ingest, and the algorithm provides a dosing strategy tailored to their needs.

To test their system, the team computed dosing strategies used in four previously-published studies on sleep loss. Two strategies were generated and compared for each study — one to increase alertness (as measured by PVT performance) using the same amount of caffeine as the original study (maximizing effects) while the other aimed to achieve the same levels of alertness using a lower amount of caffeine (minimizing dosage).

“We found that by using our algorithm, which determines when and how much caffeine a subject should consume, we can improve alertness by up to 64 percent, while consuming the same total amount of caffeine,” Reifman explains.

“Alternatively, a subject can reduce caffeine consumption by up to 65 percent and still achieve equivalent improvements in alertness.”


The 2B-alert app follows a user’s sleeping patterns to predict alertness and cognitive performance levels throughout the day. Then it tells you when to take a shot of caffeine so you’re always running at full steam.
Image credits 2B-Alert.

According to the team, these results suggest that their algorithm can be used to determine the best timing and dosage for a particular sleep/wake cycle to maximize the benefits in alertness.

Although developed for military applications, the army knows that Monday mornings are just the worst and they’re willing to share. The US Army is currently looking to license the software, aiming to produce a commercial smartphone app for public use. The algorithm’s core functionalities will still be there, meaning it will monitor and learn your individual habits — a point that may put many off in this post-Cambridge Analytica scandal world. The app would potentially track and log fitness data to help improve results, as well.

If you simply can’t wait, an open-source version of the algorithm, dubbed 2B-Alert, is also currently available. It’s meant as a proof-of-concept, a limited demonstration of the final system. It takes into account sleep and caffeine-intake data (that you punch in), but won’t deliver personalized dosage strategies as it doesn’t include PVT data.

The paper “Caffeine dosing strategies to optimize alertness during sleep loss” has been published in the Journal of Sleep Research.

Recents studies show how coffee is good for your health

Steaming hot, iced, blended, black, creamy. Coffee! It comes in many forms, and it’s part of my daily routine. It’s part of many others’ too. Last week several established publications’ websites were running coffee-related articles, touting this beverage’s health benefits. Scientists have remarked on this drink’s healthful qualities in the past. The idea that coffee is good for you is not a new one.

The Relationship with Diabetes

The delightful drink seems to help in warding off type 2 diabetes. The sex hormone-binding globulin, or SHBG for short, is a protein which controls the sex hormones in the human body: testosterone and estrogen. It has also been considered to have a key role in the evolution of this specific type of diabetes.

It has been observed that drinking coffee will increase the amount of plasma of SHBG. A few years ago, a study showed that women who ingested a minimum of four cups each day were slightly less likely to develop diabetes as opposed to those who didn’t drink it at all.

Help in Other Areas

The Best Way to Start the Day Right. Source: Pixabay.

Coffee, primarily the caffeinated kind, has been known to prevent as well as alleviate Parkinson’s disease. The consumption of caffeine has been found to significantly decrease the number of Parkinson’s cases. In fact, it may even aid in simple movement in individuals afflicted with the disease.

It provides some benefits for those who are concerned about their heart. Small daily doses can assist in preventing heart failure. In one study, it was shown that the risk of heart failure in people drinking four European cups of coffee per day was reduced by 11%.

Newer studies show that the regular intake of a relatively small amount of coffee can bring down the chances of premature death by 10%. Additional benefits could possibly include preventing cirrhosis, decrease the likelihood of multiple sclerosis (MS), and prevent the onslaught of colon cancer. However, to be certain whether these benefits are actually present in coffee more tests are needed. It is also one of the very best sources of antioxidants which protect the human body against destructive molecules called free radicals. This is good since free radicals are believed by many scientists to bring about cancer, blood vessel disease, and other serious ailments.

The Biggie: Coffee and Liver Health

From Pot to Cup. Source: Pixabay.

Perhaps the biggest health factor it basks in being associated with is liver health. Marc Gunter, head of a recent large-scale European study noted by National Geographic, has stated coffee drinking is linked to good health in the liver and circulatory systems. He also says it can account for lower inflammation levels in those who drink it as opposed to those who don’t.

The discoveries this study has led to supply the strongest defense to date for the healthful qualities of coffee. Gunter informed the scientific community and the public that he plans to examine the beverage’s chemical compounds in an attempt to know what makes it healthful.

We have actually seen how it can aid in liver conditions for several years. For instance, it was found that consuming three cups of coffee on a daily basis reduced the chances of getting liver cancer by 50%! Decaf also decreases the number of enzymes located in the liver. Thus, it is seen that caffeine is not always the prime healthy aspect provided in coffee. Drinking the beverage frequently has been associated with decreasing the risk of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) which is a rare disease infecting the liver’s bile ducts.

As we’ve seen, coffee has quite a few benefits when drunk regularly and moderately. The important thing to recognize now is that many specific studies need to done on coffee itself and how it relates to treating various illnesses.

Drinking too much caffeine can kill you — Latte, soda, and energy drink combo kill US teen

A 16-year-old in the US suffered a tragic fate after drinking a McDonald’s latte, a Mountain Dew, and an energy drink in the span of two hours. If you’re thinking “That’s not even that much,” you’ll probably want to keep on reading. The teenager had no pre-existing heart conditions and was not morbidly obese.

It’s not clear what brand of energy drink the teen had, but generally, all of them contain severe quantities of caffeine and sugar. Image credits: Simon le nippon.

The coroner announced that the teen from South Carolina suffered from a “caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia.” The teen weighed 90kg (200 lbs), which means that while he was overweight, he wasn’t morbidly obese — he was in the same situation millions of people in the US and around the world are.

But the effect that caffeine has on people is often unpredictable. Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said at a press conference that you can take several people in a similar health condition and have wildly different results.

“This is what’s dangerous about this,” Watts said. “You can have five people line up and all of them do the exact same thing with him that day, drink more, and it may not have any type of effect on them at all.”

However, Watts stressed that this is not technically a caffeine overdose — it’s the way his body reacted to the caffeine ingested in such a short time.

“We’re not saying that it was the total amount of caffeine in the system, it was just the way that it was ingested over that short period of time, and the chugging of the energy drink at the end was what the issue was with the cardiac arrhythmia.”

It’s not that you shouldn’t drink coffee or things with caffeine, but everyone should keep an eye on their intake. We all have that friend who chugs coffee after coffee without giving it much thought, and that can be very dangerous.

“We’re not trying to speak out totally against caffeine,” Mr Watts said. “We believe people need to pay attention to their caffeine intake and how they do it, just as they do with alcohol or cigarettes.”

How much caffeine can kill you

Image credits: Pixabay.

According to Caffeine Informer, a McDonald’s latte has 142mg of caffeine, a 570ml (20oz) Mountain Dew has 90mg, and a 450ml (16oz) energy drink can have as much as 240mg. A small cup of coffee contains around 160 mg of caffeine. According to the European Food Safety Authority, drinking over 400 mg of caffeine can be unhealthy, causing higher blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, tremors, insomnia, and panic attacks. In the US, the FDA also quotes 400 mg as a safe figure which should not be passed — for adults. However, there are no established limits for children or teenagers. It’s also recommended to spread caffeine consumption throughout the day and not chug it all up quickly.

While it may be impossible to have a direct caffeine overdose in a strict sense, you can still drink enough of it to kill you. Because everybody differs, it’s pretty much impossible to say just how much of it will off you. In this case, the teen drank 470 ml, which is not that much over the recommended limit (there’s generally a big gap between the recommended limit and the limit which can kill you).

It’s important to keep note of any potential side effects, which can indicate that your body isn’t really enjoying all that coffee (or caffeine products, including edibles). These are the most common symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Stomach upset
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Muscle tremors

The main point is you shouldn’t drink too much coffee. Three small cups a day is already too much. Adding lots of sugar makes things even worse.

Sean Cripe, the teen’s father, says that he hopes at least something good will come out of this — other people, and especially teens, will learn to avoid such drinks and thus prevent further tragedies.

“I stand before you as a brokenhearted father and hope that something good can come from this,” he said. “Parents, please, talk to your kids about the dangers of these energy drinks. And teenagers and students, please stop buying them.”

Energy drinks with caffeine are often marketed aggressively to the younger generations, a problem for which there is no clear solution in sight right now.


Caffeine is essentially useless after three sleep-deprived nights


Credit: Pixabay

Within thirty minutes after your first cup of joe, caffeine peak absorption occurs, stimulating your nerves and causing adrenalin to be released. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, which results in more blood pumped per minute. This blood carries extra oxygen to your brain, making you feel more alert.

No wonder coffee is the go-to drug for most of the working class which has to wake forcefully at 7 AM, catapult a bagel down the mouth and catch that morning commute. For the seriously sleep deprived, though, coffee becomes essentially useless after only three days of sleeping five hours per night.

The finding was made by Tracy Jill Doty, a research scientist at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and colleagues. The team enlisted 48 healthy volunteers for their double-blind, placebo-controlled study.

For a total of five days, participants were restricted to only five hours of shut-eye each night. Volunteers were given either a 200mg portion of caffeine or a placebo — twice daily. During the wake periods, every hour the researchers would run cognitive tests on the participants like the Profile of Mood States (POMS), and the Stanford Sleepiness Scale (SSS).

“We were particularly surprised that the performance advantage conferred by two daily 200 mg doses of caffeine was lost after three nights of sleep restriction,” Doty said about the study’s results due to be published in the journal Sleep.

It’s very likely that the sleep deprived, like shift workers, noticed this already. The obvious solution is to drink even more coffee, and although the study limited itself to two servings per day, there’s reason to believe the diminishing returns effect occurs after five or even eight cups in a day. Suffice to say, drinking too much coffee can be bad.


Powder caffeine overdose risks prompts FDA to issue letter of warning to producers


Americans’ love affair with coffee has turned into an obsession. More than half report drinking coffee at least 3.1 cups each day, totaling a $40 billion market. For some, regular coffee isn’t enough so they go for the extract: powdered caffeine. The drug is unregulated and can be sold over the counter in any pharmacy. You can even buy a one kilo bag (2.2 pounds) off Amazon and have it delivered to your doorstep. So, what’s the problem? It’s caffeine right? Well, to problem is that even a few teaspoons of the powdered caffeine mixed with a drink can potentially kill you. It’s really, really easy to overdose and, case in point, two teenagers passed away last year in separate incidents. They had no idea what they were doing, and the confusing labeling might have had something do with it. Now, the FDA has officially sent warning letters to the biggest US producers of powdered caffeine that they should change their labeling in 15 days from the issued order.

The letter was sent to SPN, LLC dba Smartpowders, Purebulk Inc., Kreativ Health Inc. (doing business as Natural Food Supplements), Hard Eight Nutrition LLC and Bridge City Bulk–Bridge City LLC and calls on the companies to revise their labeling, particularly the recommended dose. For instance, one such label suggested a quarter teaspoon should be added to one serving, but one teaspoon is equivalent to ingesting 28 cups of coffee. You can easily miss it, and although most consumers are body builders who should know what they’re doing, there will always be some who have no idea.

Last year, Logan Stiner in LaGrange, Ohio died of cardiac arrhythmia and seizure after he miscalculated the dose.  Wade Sweatt, a 24-year-old man in Georgia, mixed the powdered caffeine with water as a substitute for… Montain Dew. He later fell into a coma and died.

“While consumers of caffeinated products such as coffee, tea, and soda may be aware of caffeine’s less serious effects — such as nervousness and tremors — they may not be aware that these pure powdered caffeine products are much more potent and can cause serious health effects,” stated FDA in a press release.

The lethal dose is considered  one tablespoon or 8 grams, the equivalent to 84 cups of coffee. You’ll have to be one crazy nut to drink 84 cups of coffee. After, let’s say, 20 cups every inch of your body is begging you to stop. You can ingest a tablespoon in a jiffy though. It can be quite dangerous, especially if you have kids around, and the FDA is right to crack down on producers. In fact, just asking for more warnings and information on the label might not be enough. Maybe it’s time for powdered caffeine to become regulated.




Sugar with that? Sweetening coffee or tea really changes your drink

Coffee and tea taste bitter to most people because of the caffeine. Of course, some like their coffee dark, but most people, including yours truly, can’t have a sip without at least a lump of sugar inside. Apparently, we’re on to something. Adding sugar to coffee or tea not only cuts the bitterness, but changes the chemistry of the drink at a fundamental level, according to Dr. Seishi Shimizu at University of York.


Image: flickr

Previously, researchers thought the bitter taste suppression was due to the change of “water structure” induced by the additives. Using  statistical thermodynamics, however, Shimizu showed that instead of the change of water structure, the bitter taste suppression must be due to the binding of sugar with the caffeine. The elemental cause is the affinity between water and sugar molecules, which in effect make the caffeine molecules stick together.

“It is delightful indeed that food and drink questions can be solved using theory, with equipment no more complex than a pen and paper.  Encouraged by this discovery, and our recent success on how to make jelly firmer, we are working hard to reveal more about the molecular basis of food and cooking,” said Shimizu who published his work in Food and Function.

Millions of people around the world love coffee, not to mention tea. Knowing more about how various additives like sugar or salt react with water is highly important for the food industry. In effect, we might one day find that perfect cup of coffee. I know, a puritan’s dream.

[MORE] What gives coffee its distinct color and flavor

Caffeine consumption slows down brain development


Picture Source.

Humans and other mammals show particularly intensive sleeping patterns during puberty – this is also the period during which the brain matures the most; but when pubescent lab rats were administered coffee, their brains matured much slower and not so efficient, a new study shows; considering that children’s and young adults’ coffee consumption has increased dramatically in the past decades, by 70% in the past 30 years, this is a serious matter of concern.

There are many reasons to worry about the increased consumption in teenagers and young adults (which if trends continue, will grow even more). Researchers led by Reto Huber of the University Children’s Hospital Zurich are now adding new arguments to the debate: their research on rats showed that the equivalent of three to four cups of coffee per day in humans results in reduced deep sleep and (perhaps consequently) a significantly delayed brain development.

“The brain of children is extremely plastic due to the many connections,” says Huber. When the brain then begins to mature during puberty, a large number of these connections are lost. “This optimisation presumably occurs during deep sleep. Key synapses extend, others are reduced; this makes the network more efficient and the brain more powerful,” says Huber.

Both in humans and in rats, the number of synapses grows dramatically during childhood and puberty, which makes it highly plausible that the results obtained in rats are coherent with what you would see in humans. Even if the rat brain differs significantly from the human brain, there are certainly some resemblances, and probably, some similar reactions to the pick-me-up.

Another interesting efect was that the slower maturing process of the brain was also associated with behavioral traits: instead of becoming more curious and active, rats on caffeine were much more timid and shy.

Journal Reference.

(c) Mauro Rodrigues / Fotolia

Bees use caffeine to boost memory and remember plants better

Honeybees are extraordinary animals, and for years scientists have looked at them for inspiration to develop new technologies from artificial hive mind computers to explosive detectors. Bees have been truly gifted by nature, and we’re only starting to unravel the many abilities these fantastic insects possess. Recently, researchers at Newcastle University have found that bees enjoy a good “cup of java” just like any of us humans, after they found caffeine helps dramatically boost bees’ memory. This leads to a preferential treatment for plants containing caffeine.

(c) Mauro Rodrigues / Fotolia

(c) Mauro Rodrigues / Fotolia

There are many plants that contain caffeine, like those in the genuses Coffea and Citrus, a feature typically developed by the plants in order to fend off pestering insects. Fortunately for bees, the caffeine concentration in most of these plants doesn’t harm them, on the contrary.

“Remembering floral traits is difficult for bees to perform at a fast pace as they fly from flower to flower, and we have found that caffeine helps the bee remember where the flowers are,” study leader Geraldine Wright, a neuroethologist at Newcastle University, UK, said in a statement. “Caffeine in nectar is likely to improve the bee’s foraging prowess while providing the plant with a more faithful pollinator,” Wright added.

To test how caffeine affects bees, the researchers measured the concentration in each of the studied plants, including robusta and arabica, as well as Citrus plants like  grapefruit, lemons, pomelo and oranges. They found that caffeine was well within the tolerated threshold for bees.

Then, the scientists performed a Pavlovian conditioning experiment. Bees have a feeding mechanism in which they stick out feeding parts out of their mouth when in the vicinity of a sweet nectar. The researchers trained the bees to engage in feeding behavior when sensing a floury scent, and then rewarded them with either sugar or caffeinated sugar.

Even 24 hours later, three times as many bees remembered the scent that was paired with a caffeine reward as the plain sugar and twice, while twice as many bees remembered the flowers’ scent after three days. There’s always the possibility that caffeine might have made bees more responsive to scent, however the researchers ruled out this idea and concluded that cognition is the primarily affected.

“I think it’s the first example of nature manipulating memory in an animal,” neuroscientist Serena Dudek of the National Institutes of Health, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience. “We all have this impression that caffeine is made to be toxic to animals,” Dudek said, but “it’s surprising that these plants use caffeine not as a toxin but as an advantage in getting bees to remember better.”

To find out how exactly caffeine helped bees remember better, the researchers  recorded activity from bees’ Kenyon cells – somewhat homologous to our hippocampal neurons, responsible for creating and storing memories – and found these became more excited in response to caffeine stimuli. Too much caffeine, however, can be toxic to bees and apparently the insects have developed a sort of sensor that allows them to detect high concentrations and stay away.

Findings were reported in the journal Science.

Caffeine consumption linked to hallucinations

You can’t believe everything people say, but you sometimes can’t even believe what you hear, especially if you’ve had 3 or more cups of coffee. Australian researchers from La Trobe University have just published a study suggesting that people on a major coffee buzz are prone to hear and seethings that aren’t there.

The thins is that this might raise new concerns about caffeine use, but if you ask me, for the average coffee consumer who hears about studies like this all the time, this is hardly going to amount to anything more than background noise.

They employed a simple method to test this; they asked a number of subjects, some caffeineted (over 3 cups) and some not; they put on headphones, and told them to focus on the noise, and that White Christmas would be playing on the background – which was a plain lie. The researchers concluded that more than five cups of coffee can be clearly linked with hallucinations – most of the subjects stating that they heard the music.

Of course this study refers only to mild hallucinations, and there a huge gap between hearing White Christmas and full scale hallucinations; but then again, that’s how it starts, doesn’t it ?