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Getting Peppy: The Skinny on Caffeine



In an article from a few years ago, Bianna Golodryga reported on the launch of Starbucks ’ instant coffee packets. Since then, Starbucks’ instant coffee has become an easy way to get that daily cup of joe without having to waste time heading to a crowded coffee house in the morning.

Coffee is appreciated throughout the world for its subtle, vibrant flavors. Still, its popularity in the U.S. comes from its inherent ability to add some zip into your system, thanks mainly to its caffeine content.

What is Caffeine?

A natural component of coffee, chocolate, and tea, caffeine is a chemical stimulant scientifically known as trimethyl xanthine. Believe it or not, caffeine is a drug and shares various traits with other, more potent drugs like cocaine and heroin.

In its purest form, caffeine appears as a white powder with a bitter taste. Medically, caffeine can be used as a heart stimulant and a mild diuretic, which means it increases urine production to flush fluids from the body.

Of course, as Bianna Golodryga notes in her article, caffeine is most well known for providing that sudden boost of energy and heightened alertness. However, like any other drug, caffeine can lead to addiction. Many people need that caffeine boost to survive the morning, and frequently more of it as the body gets used to the drug’s effects over time.

Foods Containing Caffeine

As it occurs naturally in a variety of plants, caffeine is found in a wide range of foods other than the instant coffee reported by Bianna Golodryga and is added to many food products and beverages. Cola, for instance, originally contained kola nut extract, which gave the drink its flavor and buzz thanks to its natural caffeine content. These days, colas contain artificial flavors, but the caffeine is still added during production.

Energy drinks mix large concentrations of sugar, caffeine, and other stimulants to give that extra jolt to the system. These drinks contain about 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8 ounce serving.

Tea and coffee are the two primary sources of caffeine. The concentration of the drug depends on the type of beans/leaves and the brewing processes, but many coffees and teas can contain more caffeine than your average energy drink. A 5 ounce serving of coffee can contain as much as 150 milligrams of caffeine; the same meal of black tea can contain 80 milligrams of caffeine.

Caffeine and Medicine

We already know that caffeine can stimulate the heart and make you pee, but caffeine has several other medical uses.

Caffeine that has been treated with a citrate of sodium or potassium can help breathing in premature babies. Young children with breathing problems can also benefit from small doses of caffeine. In adults, caffeine can improve the effectiveness of certain medicines, like acetaminophen and aspirin. Caffeine can also help treat cluster headaches and migraines when used in conjunction with ergotamine.