Response letter to an alarmist anti-caffeine organization

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Stumbled across caffeineawareness.org by accident… weird site full of bizarre alarmist propaganda against the consumption of Caffeine.

For example: “Consume 5 grams and you’re DEAD, and it’s perfectly legal!” is touted in an ad on the sidebar of the website. The website also claims that caffeine is “highly addictive”, which seems hyperbolic, given how Caffeine actually works.

As I discussed previously, prolonged exposure to a significant (over 200mg) amount of Caffeine will result in an increase in the number of Adenosine receptors in your brain (this is called “upregulation”, and is your brain’s attempt at recovering homeostasis). This results in a “diminished returns” benefit of future Caffeine consumption until the brain is given a break from the chemical, and can downregulate back to normal levels. (this takes roughly 2 weeks for most people — individuals with severe Caffeinism may require longer periods, but you would have to be a serious compulsory consumer of Caffeine, 800mg or more / day, to be that bad)

Moderation is key, of course. If we view coffee as a tool, rather than a necessity, it can be a very beneficial ally. Habitual consumption of ANYTHING is generally a bad idea, and Caffeine is no exception.

Caffeine is nowhere NEAR as addictive as cigarettes, for example, or any harder addictive stimulants (Methamphetamine, Cocaine, Crack-cocaine, etc.). In fact, those harder stimulants don’t even interact with your brain in the same way that caffeine does (meth & coke tend to hammer your Dopaminergic receptors predominantly, whereas Caffeine simply prevents your Adenosine / Purinergic receptors from being used for a short while — there is some dopaminergic side-interactions with Caffeine, but it focuses largely on the Adenosine A1 / A2 receptors because of the homologous chemical structure to Adenosine.)

Here’s my response to them:

Is your organization advocating complete caffeine abstinence, or simply heavily moderated consumption?

I did my undergrad thesis on the neurological effects of caffeine and all the studies I reviewed (various PRJs) showed that moderated consumption (100mg of coffee / day at most) does not detrimentally affect the brain nor body.

In fact, there was a study done over thirty years (N=8,004) that showed an inverse correlation between higher dietary intake of caffeine and incidence of Parkinson’s disease. A metabolite of Caffeine (Theophylline), has also been found to be helpful in treating existing Parkinson’s patients. (see: Cieslak et al, “Adenosine A2a receptors in Parkinson’s disease treatment”, 2008)

It may not have nutritional benefits in the sense that it is not metabolized for the purposes of producing energy nor is it really necessary for the regular maintenance of bodily tissue / chemicals. But that doesn’t automatically make it toxic — the body has metabolic pathways that can process Caffeine and safely pass it through normal digestive means.

I do think that your caffeine database, revealing the hidden sources of caffeine, is helpful — food manufacturer’s should be required to disclose the Caffeine content of their food / beverages so that consumers may make informed decisions about their caffeine intake.

That said — your website is full of unrealistic alarmism. One could say similar things about Dihydrogen Monoxide — inhaling small amounts, even less than a liter, is often fatal, and it’s all around us.

So what’s your angle?

The promotional materials have all the hallmarks of crackpot journalism “What the experts aren’t telling you,” “why is the industry keeping this a secret,” “it could kill you!” etc. It’s bollocks.

There’s no caffeine conspiracy, folks. Yes, food manufacturers should inform consumers of their products’ Caffeine content, but only for the same reasons it’s useful to know kCalories or sugar content — it allows us to make measured and informed decisions about what we put in our bodies. Warning labels, such as those found on cigarettes, are not necessary. Caffeine is not a carcinogen, is not toxic*, and unless you’re an idiot, it’s not going to kill you.

* By “toxic”, I am referring to the class of substances for which the body does not have established metabolic pathways to safely degrade and excrete the stuff when finished. Those substances can wreak havoc on the body before they are finally passed out — things that are “poisonous” or labeled “toxic” would fall under this category. Caffeine is neither.