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PolitiFact will be tracking Barack Obama’s promises during his presidency and will be rating the progress of each one. >>more
Posted By: Jon Barron
Caffeine -- it's the world's most popular drug. People drink it with alcohol to ramp up the effect. They drink it after alcohol to sober up. They take it to get rid of headaches, cure cancer, and prevent Parkinson's. Then again, the state of California is looking to put warning labels on any product that contains added caffeine. So what gives; is caffeine saint or sinner, miracle drug or prenatal nightmare?
In truth, it's all of the above. The devil, as usual when it comes to natural substances, lies in the details. And that's what we're going to explore in this newsletter, the truth behind caffeine.
The world's most popular drug
Pure caffeine is a bitter-tasting white powder that looks a lot like cornstarch. It is moderately soluble in water at body temperature and readily soluble in boiling water. It was first isolated from coffee in 1820, after which it was quickly recognized that the mood-and-behavior-altering properties of both coffee and tea depended upon caffeine. Whether it's in the form of coffee, tea, chocolate, kola nut chewables, guarana, or yerba matte, hundreds of millions of people around the world (including 90% of Americans) start their days with a jolt of caffeine or use a jolt during the day to keep them "going." And yet, almost no one who consumes it knows much about it. As a point of clarification, not all forms of caffeine are the same. Depending on what other alkaloids and antioxidants come with it or how it's bound with fiber, the "caffeine experience" can be quite different from beverage to beverage. Each caffeine complex actually has a different name depending on its source such as guaranine as found in guarana, mateine as found in mate, and theine as found in tea. Another point of distinction is that not all caffeine is actually caffeine. Chocolate, for example, contains theobromine, a very close relative of caffeine -- but only 1/10 as stimulating.
Although caffeine is not addictive in the same sense that many hard drugs can be considered addictive, it definitely affects the brain and body and stimulates them in a manner similar to the amphetamines such as cocaine. They all work by blocking adenosine's ability to slow nerve cell activity in preparation for sleep, and instead increase the speed of nerve cell activity and of the neuron firing in the brain. (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.) And if this were not enough by itself to keep you awake, the increased neuron firing in the brain causes the pituitary glands to release hormones that tell the adrenal glands to produce adrenaline, which gives your body a boost, so it can remain active and alert.
Another effect of blocking adenosine is that it causes blood vessels in the brain to constrict, which also serves to prevent the brain and body from sleeping. (As a side note, it's probably worth mentioning that the ability of caffeine to close blood vessels in the brain is why many pain relievers contain caffeine. If you have a vascular headache, the caffeine in Anacin, for example, will shut down the blood vessels, thus easing the pain.) And finally, both caffeine and cocaine increase dopamine production in the brain, so you experience a temporary "high." Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that activates "pleasure centers" in the brain and, quite simply, makes you feel "good." Naturally, the pleasurable effect produced by dopamine manipulation plays a major role in caffeine addiction.
And speaking of addiction, as I mentioned in the last paragraph, caffeine is not an addictive drug in the same sense as cocaine and/or heroin. Nevertheless, because of caffeine's role as an adenosine antagonist, anyone who consumes as little as 300 mg of caffeine a day (the equivalent of just 3 cups of drip coffee) will suffer withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly cut off their caffeine supply. The problem is that 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 in an attempt to compensate. This is known as the "tolerance effect." This makes the body much more sensitive to adenosine -- and consequently less sensitive to caffeine. In effect, this forces you to consume more and more caffeine over time to get the same stimulatory effect. On the other hand, any reduction in caffeine intake will effectively increase the normal physiological effects of adenosine because there are now so many more receptor sites created by the caffeine in the first place. The problem is that as caffeine clears those sites, they will be free to take in adenosine, but at an accelerated rate because there are so many more of them. The net result is unwelcome withdrawal symptoms including fatigue, depression, irritability, tremors, jumpiness, not to mention deprivation of deep sleep, and, of course, headaches, as the blood vessels in the brain begin to once again dilate.
Thanks to the popularity of energy drinks, caffeine is now omnipresent, but its level of concentration can vary widely. A piece of chocolate may contain as little as 5mg, whereas some energy drinks may contain as much as 160 mg. And for that matter, some medications and diet pills can run as high as 200 mg of caffeine. Buzz city!!!
One of the major problems with caffeine is that it can severely impact sleep patterns. Yes, if you have a morning cup of coffee, 75% of it will clear your body by the time you go to bed. But if you have a couple of cups of drip coffee in the morning, that means you will still be going to sleep with some 50 mg still percolating in your veins -- more than enough to disrupt the depth and quality of your sleep. And if you drink coffee throughout the day, or as an afternoon pick-me-up, the level in your blood at bedtime will climb dramatically. So while, yes, you may yet fall asleep, it is likely the quality of that sleep will not be up to par.
Another problem is that caffeine is a diuretic and can dehydrate you. Some experts claim that the fluid you consume in drinking coffee or energy drinks more than compensates for the fluid you lose through extra urination, but the facts don't bear that out. Claims to the contrary are based on erroneous studies on dehydration and misleading sound bites.
Caffeine and alcohol don't mix -- either while drinking, or for sobering up after drinking. The problem is that caffeine is a stimulant, whereas alcohol is a depressant -- complete opposites. That means that caffeine doesn't negate the effects of alcohol; it only makes you "think" it does. Consuming caffeine creates the impression that you're getting sharper and more sober. But the truth is your reaction time and judgment are still impaired. Mixing alcohol and caffeine make you more likely to have accidents -- either in your car or while operating heavy machinery.
There is also the problem that there are at least 32 epidemiological studies of caffeine that have found an increased risk of adverse developmental or reproductive outcomes. To put that in layman's terms, studies have linked caffeine to both lowered birth weight and a significant increase in birth defects.
And caffeine is a growing problem for kids. The consumption of soft drinks by children has literally doubled in the past 35 years, with soda replacing milk. A 2003 study of Columbus, Ohio middle schoolers found some taking in an astounding 800 milligrams of caffeine a day -- more than twice the recommended maximum for adults of 300 milligrams. And that was in 2003, before the energy drink craze hit full bore. With the advent of energy drinks in the last five years, those numbers have only grown.
So how much caffeine is too much?
According to the Mayo Clinic, for most adults, moderate doses of caffeine -- 200 to 300 milligrams (mg), or about two to four cups of brewed coffee a day -- aren't harmful. But heavy use -- more than 500 to 600 mg a day, or about four to seven cups of coffee -- can cause a whole host of problems, including:
Caffeine and the law
There's a popular song from the last 40 years that goes, "I fought the law, and the law won." When it comes to caffeine and caffeine enhanced drinks, that may turn out to be remarkably prescient. A couple of years ago, the State of California announced that state environmental health officials were considering whether or not the caffeine found in soda and energy drinks was harmful to your health, especially for pregnant women. In addition, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment is considering placing warning labels on caffeine enhanced drinks if California Health Officials actually conclude that caffeine is a harmful substance.
And if that were not enough, the State of Utah announced earlier this month that they are considering taxing caffeine as a new stream of revenue for the state.
Make no mistake -- whether either of these initiatives ever goes live or not is irrelevant. The bottom line is that caffeine is now in legislative crosshairs around the world. Europe already requires a warning label on high caffeine energy drinks, and France has actually banned Red Bull.
Caffeine -- the miracle drug?
So much for the negatives. Caffeine/coffee also has a bright side. At least six studies have shown that people who drink coffee on a regular basis are up to 80% less likely to develop Parkinson's, with three studies showing the more they drink, the lower the risk. Other research has shown that drinking coffee can reduce the risk of colon and liver cancer by some 25%, slash the risk of skin cancer by some 40%, drop the risk of liver cirrhosis by 22%, and lower the risk of gallstones by nearly half.
Coffee might even offset some of the damage caused by other vices. Some research indicates that people who smoke and are heavy drinkers have less heart disease and liver damage when they regularly consume large amounts of coffee compared to those who don't.
And of course, caffeine is widely used for its stimulating and alertness properties, as well as its ability to enhance athletic performance.
Note: not all of the benefits associated with drinking coffee or tea can necessarily be attributed to caffeine. In many cases, they might be specific to the antioxidants found in those beverages (see below).
So, caffeine yes -- caffeine no?
As I mentioned at the top of the newsletter, when it comes to caffeine, the devil is in the details. With that in mind, let me offer my recommendations.
To begin reversing GM contamination will require ending the power biotech companies such as Monsanto exert over our government and through that, over our food.
HR 875, was introduced by Rosa DeLauro whose husband Stanley Greenburg works for Monsanto.
The bill is monstrous on level after level - the power it would give to Monsanto, the criminalization of seed banking, the prison terms and confiscatory fines for farmers, the 24 hours GPS tracking of their animals, the easements on their property to allow for warrantless government entry, the stripping away of their property rights, the imposition by the filthy, greedy industrial side of anti-farming international "industrial" standards to independent farms - the only part of our food system that still works, the planned elimination of farmers through all these means.
The corporations want the land, they want more intensive industrialization, they want the end of normal animals so they can substitute patented genetically engineered ones they own, they want the end of normal seeds and thus of seed banking by farmers or individuals. They want control over all seeds, animals, water, and land.
Our farmers are good stewards. That is who is threatened by Rosa DeLauro's bill (and because of that, we all are). At a time in this country when wise stewardship and the production of anything real - especially good food - is what is most needed, it is our best stewards whom Rosa DeLauro threatens, under the cruelly false name of "food safety."
And now Monsanto wants its own employee, Michael Taylor back in government, this time to act with massive police power as a "food safety tsar" from inside the White House. This is the man who forced genetically engineered rBGH on us (unlabeled, and without warning) when the Clintons placed him over "food safety" in the 90s. HR 875 would give him immense power over what is done on every single farm in the country and massive police state power to wield over farmers and punishments to break them at will.
The following quotes show Monsanto and its biotech ilk are not "stewards" at all. Their inhuman focus on profit has led to inhuman, insane, sickening products that require intense corruption of democracy and science institutes and media, to foist them on country after country which don't want them.
It is our farmers who stand between us and this outrage which masquerades as science, as food, as normal business, as government. And it is our farmers who need not only protecting but actual freeing from government intrusion, control and harm.
Vegetarians and vegans do not identify with farmers who raise animals but what is at stake here is critical for all of us. "First they came for the Jews" is an apt reminder of what matters in standing with each other because the overwhelming bureaucratic burdens, the record requirements, the warrantless inspections, the end of farmers' markets, the criminalization of seed banking, the ten years in prison for stepping out of line in any way -- this will next be applied not to animals breaking out of fence onto a neighbor's farm, but for such things as not spraying pesticides on an organic farm to eradicate earthworms (now listed as an invasive species) because the government's "food safety tsar" has deemed it necessary.
HR 875 is the beginning. This time, it is about handing over control of our food supply to enhance profits of the chemical industry. This time it is aimed with ferocity at farmers who keep animals. Next time it will be totalitarian control.
Rosa DeLauro and Stanley Greenburg have a great deal to account for in attempting through a mislabeled bill with hidden intent to wipe out our farmers and harm all of us. HR 875 gives Monsanto greater power and opens doors wider to the following ...
This class is over, but the slides and handouts are still available for downloading.
Scientists Tracking Path Between Emotions and Health
It's interesting to see that the concepts of Chinese medicine -- in particular the interplay of mind, body and spirit (emotion) and their role in health as well as disease -- are beginning to seep into mainstream medicine. Here in the Western world, physicians have been trained to separate mental, physical and emotional symptoms. In contrast, Chinese medicine views the patient as a whole, with each part intimately connected. Now, here in the US, an increasing number of studies tie emotional health with physical ailments, in particular heart disease, cancer and autoimmune disorders... a step in the right direction, even though the scientific community continues to focus on finding the physiological "root" of illness as they apply their cause-effect mentality in an attempt to identify, isolate and manage "the problem." But the Chinese take a very different approach, looking to the whole body system and the concept of balance in every aspect, including between emotions and the physical self.
THE CHINESE VIEW OF THE WORLD
I spoke with Jeffrey Zimmerman, OMD, doctor of Chinese medicine, practitioner of acupuncture and founder of the OptiMotion system of body alignment, who explained that in Chinese medicine, feeling any emotions intensely is considered an imbalance. When there is balance among the mind, body and spirit, everything that happens, good and bad, is processed naturally, in a fluid way. It's all experienced as normal, without great intensity. Getting "stuck" in emotions is what blocks energy, inviting or creating an opportunity for illness and unrest.
Chinese medicine asserts that each organ has an emotional spectrum. A Chinese medicine practitioner asks a patient about his/her state of mind and identifies relationships between the responses and the internal organs. The concept is that when one emotional state dominates, smooth flow of energy (known as qi) to specific organs is impeded, so the emotion and the organ must be treated concurrently.
CONNECTING THE DOTS:
EMOTIONS AND ILLNESS
The emotional-physical ties are not as direct and simplistic as Westerners would like them to be, but the dots can indeed be connected. To better understand how, I spoke with Kathryn White, PhD, LAc, a practicing psychologist and acupuncturist who is the president and chief academic officer, American University of Complementary Medicine (Beverly Hills, California), which focuses on what she calls Chinese Classical Medicine (CCM), one of many different forms of practicing the ancient art. She told me that at the heart of CCM is the concept that all disease has roots in a need to change in one of three basic aspects of life -- physical, emotional or lifestyle -- that comes up against an inability or unwillingness to do so. Sickness can be an expression of these conflicts.
One simple illustration: Chinese medicine respects the body's natural ability to expel toxins by vomiting them up, sneezing them out or through urination or defecation. Medicine that treats the symptoms gets in the way of this natural process, sending the toxins from the now-suppressed symptoms into the body's energy channels where ultimately they can get stuck and cause serious disease. Treatment must address the entire person, not just the symptoms.
LESSONS FROM CCM
Both Dr. White and Dr. Zimmerman have suggestions for using these basic concepts to promote personal health and well-being and eliminate toxicity that intrudes on our mind, body or spirit. Here are some of their tips...
The principles of Chinese medicine should not be understood to mean that having physical, emotional or lifestyle problems indicates you are doing something wrong. Life, it teaches, is school and it gives all of us the lessons we need to learn. Deal regularly with your issues and be willing to confront whatever comes your way. This will make you less likely to have pathology and more likely to obtain real and deep meaning from your life.
Kathryn White, PhD, LAc, a psychologist and acupuncturist, is the president and chief academic officer, American University of Complementary Medicine, Beverly Hills, California.
Jeffrey Zimmerman, OMD, once a classical musician and now a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, acupuncturist, martial artist and Qigong master in Westport, Connecticut. www.jeffreyczimmerman.wordpress.com/.
In addition, here are 7 empowering steps you can take in your life right now:
The Power of Compassion
Can good thoughts for the well-being of others also keep you healthy? For centuries people have turned to various forms of meditation to quiet their minds, improve their concentration, decrease anxiety, soothe pain and facilitate healing. Research led by a Tibetan Buddhist teacher and an American physician adds yet another benefit to that already impressive list -- their study found evidence that practicing a particular kind, called compassion meditation, may help reduce the type of inflammatory responses to stressful interpersonal situations that have been linked to the development of both mental and physical diseases. People who practiced compassion meditation regularly also had less distress and anger in response to stress.
CHANGING THE WAY WE SEE OTHERS
At Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, 61 healthy students were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One group participated in six weeks of twice-weekly classroom training in a non-religious version of compassion meditation while the other group (the control group) spent a similar amount of time in health discussions. Meditation teacher Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership and a study author, explained that lojong (as the meditation practice is called) means training or transforming the mind. Where we're all conditioned to identify certain people as friends and others as enemies, lojong teaches us to challenge those assumptions. "It helps us see that others are no different from ourselves, that all people have the same problems and common aspirations," he explained. "It has a cognitive component that teaches us to reshape our relationships with ourselves and others to better connect each of us to all of humanity."
To perform lojong meditation, students first learned how to do "meditative concentration" on their breathing, which helps stabilize the mind and refines their attention. Next they practiced mindfulness and meditation, to train them to increase their non-judgmental awareness of thoughts and bodily sensations and were instructed to focus on the universal desire of all people to be happy and avoid suffering. Finally, the students sent out their desire for happiness in a circle that expanded outward... first on themselves... then on loved ones... then to strangers... and finally, to those whom they disliked. They were instructed to concentrate on generating compassion for all people. These students were also given a CD to use to help them practice compassion meditation at home daily, keeping online records of when they meditated and for how long.
A control group spent classroom time in group discussion about issues related to the physical and mental health of college students. Topics included stress management, substance abuse, sexual behavior and health, and depression and anxiety. This group also participated in role-playing exercises and mock debates on the topics they studied. As a way to maintain an equal time requirement with the meditation group for at-home participation, students in the control group were asked to write weekly opinion papers, two to three pages in length, on self-improvement topics. Study participants were recruited from their Emory University health education class and randomly assigned to either the meditation or the control (health discussion) group.
A SURPRISING OUTCOME
At the end of the study, students in both groups were asked to participate in a "stressful task" based on a widely used laboratory psychosocial stress test. Researchers measured their biological responses, including blood levels of the stress hormones cortisol and interleukin 6 (IL-6), which is a marker of inflammation. The researchers anticipated a difference between the meditators and the control group, but that actually turned out to be insignificant, said Charles Raison, MD, assistant professor in Emory's department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and senior author of the study. What was significant, however, was a reduction in inflammatory markers that correlated with how frequently subjects meditated. The more often subjects practiced compassion meditation, the lower the levels of inflammation in their blood after the stress test.
WHY THE RESULTS MATTER
We know that inflammation puts wear and tear on the body and that has a cumulative negative effect on health. Dr. Raison called it "promising" to see that engaging in a discipline that helps retrain the mind to be more compassionate not only makes people kinder, but also healthier. His co-author Dr. Negi agrees, noting that by teaching a broader acceptance of others, this type of compassion meditation can be "an instrument of health that might be of benefit to people in all walks of life."
For more information on how to do a lojong practice, look for books including Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living (Shambhala Library), by Pema Chödrön... Emotional Awareness: Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance and Compassion (Times), by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman, PhD... and Quiet Mind: A Beginner's Guide to Meditation compiled by Susan Piver (Shambhala).
Charles Raison, MD, is an assistant professor, department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Emory University School of Medicine.
Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, (also known as Geshe Lobsang Tenzin Negi) is senior lecturer in religion and director, Emory-Tibet Partnership.
Medical Studies: Don't Believe Everything the Media Says
JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH
Harvard Medical School
hen the media reports on medical news, complex research gets reduced to sound bites -- which may be misleading. Find a full account of the study (try www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus) and ask...
Are this study's results consistent with other evidence? Accuracy usually involves consistent results from different researchers... using different types of studies... and involving different people. Example: The link between smoking and lung cancer that has been seen in so many studies.
Is it an observational study or a randomized clinical trial? An observational study tracks behavior and health outcomes without intervening in participants' lives. This can uncover "associations" but cannot prove a cause-and-effect link. Example: The apparent health benefits of vitamin supplements seen in observational studies simply may reflect that people who choose to use such supplements tend to have more healthful habits overall.
In a randomized clinical trial, researchers actively intervene by assigning participants at random to receive treatment or a placebo -- making this the "gold standard" of research.
Is it an animal study? Animal studies allow far greater control than human studies -- but results from other species may not apply directly to people.
How many participants were there? The larger the study, the less likely its findings are due to chance.
How long did the study last? A long-term study may detect risks or benefits that go unnoticed in shorter studies. Example: Hormone therapy using estrogen plus progestin increases risk for breast cancer -- but only after four to five years. A two-year study would not uncover this relationship.
Did the study look at actual disease outcomes? Because it takes years for certain diseases to develop, many studies examine "markers" of disease. Example: Lower cholesterol levels suggest a reduced risk for heart disease -- though cholesterol reductions do not always lead to actual decreases in heart disease risk. Research looking at concrete outcomes, such as the occurrence of heart attacks, is more reliable.
Who were the participants? A study is less valid if participants are not typical of the people who use the therapy. Example: The first clinical trial of estrogen therapy to reduce heart disease was done on men, not women!
What does increased risk really mean? It is scary to hear that a risk factor (such as exposure to a toxin) increases risk for a certain disease by, say, 50%. But suppose that two cases of disease normally occur per 10,000 women who haven't been exposed to the toxin. In that case, a 50% increase would mean that toxic exposure leads to three cases per 10,000 women -- which isn't so scary.
Bottom Line/Women's Health interviewed JoAnn E. Manson, MD, DrPH, a professor of medicine and women's health at Harvard Medical School and chief of the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, both in Boston. She is one of the lead investigators for two highly influential studies on women's health -- the Harvard Nurses' Health Study and the Women's Health Initiative. Dr. Manson is the author, with Shari Bassuk, ScD, of Hot Flashes, Hormones & Your Health (McGraw-Hill).