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Coffee and Caffeine: The Good , The Bad and Death

Published over 2 years ago • 7 min read

Hello! I'm Lina Salleh, founder of Fuss Free Science. You're receiving this email because you signed up to the Fuss Free Science, a monthly newsletter about science topics, made easy to understand. Thank you for being here. If you enjoy the newsletter, please forward it to a friend. And if this email was forwarded to you, you can get your own.

Hello Reader!

In this edition, we’re going to learn about coffee and caffeine. Now that Ramadan is over, I can drink coffee again! This month we’re going to cover:

  1. What happens to your body when you take caffeine?
  2. The side effects of caffeine.
  3. Other applications of caffeine.
  4. What’s the best way to brew coffee to get the best flavour and the most amount of caffeine?

TL;DR

  1. Caffeine kicks in about 15 to 45 minutes after you’ve taken it, but starts to wear off after 2 hours.
  2. Side effects of caffeine include palpitations, anxiety and overdose of caffeine can kill you.
  3. Caffeine is used in cosmetic products like eye cream to reduce puffiness.
  4. Espresso maker is the best method to extract the most amount of flavour compounds and caffeine.

Coffee is a really popular drink worldwide. There are over 70 different species of coffee. The most important ones are Coffea arabica, which gives us Arabica coffee, and Coffea canephora, which gives us Robusta coffee[1].

Up to 80% of the coffee produced in the world is made up of Arabica beans. Robusta and the rest make up the remaining 30%.

Coffee popular for the taste and also how our body reacts to caffeine.

Coffee isn’t the only source of caffeine. Other than coffee, we can find caffeine in tea, yerba mate leaves, guarana berries and cacao beans [2]. So that means that chocolates are also a source of caffeine! So if you can’t sleep after drinking hot cocoa, now you know why!

What happens to your body after you have caffeine?

When you drink coffee or tea, it takes up to 45 minutes for your body to absorb the caffeine. For some people, the effects kick in as fast as 15 minutes. This depends on how sensitive your body is to caffeine. Once the caffeine is in your system, the effects can last up to 2.5 to 4.5 hours [2]. But this depends on your metabolism. If you have a higher metabolism, the faster it breaks down the caffeine. This means that the effects don’t last as long, compared to someone with a lower metabolism.

So what happens after your body absorbs all that caffeine? The diagram below shows a summary of how caffeine affects the different organs, both positive and negative effects[2].

A figure of a woman with arrows pointing to the different internal organs to describe what are the effects of caffeine to the body. effectiveness of the pain medications you take for headaches. But may also cause insomnia and anxiety.  Lungs - May improve your lung function a little.  Heart - Increases the blood pressure but the more coffee you take, you can develop some tolerance to it.  Endocrine system - It might affect the body’s ability to know when to release insulin into the bloodstream. So the body may not be able to break down the sugar in the blood. But, over time, the body develops a tolerance for it  Liver - May reduce risk of liver cancer and cirrhosis.  Kidneys - The diuretic effect of caffeine means that you will need to pee more. Can lead to dehydration if you don’t watch your water intake to compensate that.  Reproductive System - Caffeine may affect the growth of the baby, and increases the risk of pregnancy loss.
  1. Brain - You are more alert, and your brain works better. Caffeine may also boost the effectiveness of the pain medications you take for headaches. But may also cause insomnia and anxiety.
  2. Lungs - May improve your lung function a little.
  3. Heart - Increases the blood pressure but the more coffee you take, you can develop some tolerance to it.
  4. Endocrine system - It might affect the body’s ability to know when to release insulin into the bloodstream. So the body may not be able to break down the sugar in the blood. But, over time, the body develops a tolerance for it.
  5. Liver - May reduce risk of liver cancer and cirrhosis.
  6. Kidneys - The diuretic effect of caffeine means that you will need to pee more. Can lead to dehydration if you don’t watch your water intake to compensate that.
  7. Reproductive System - Caffeine may affect the growth of the baby, and increases the risk of pregnancy loss.

Pregnancy and caffeine

One of the first things a doctor will recommend a pregnant person to do is to cut down on caffeine. During pregnancy, the caffeine isn't broken down by the body as efficiently, so that can cause large amounts of caffeine to linger in the body. Since caffeine can pass through the placenta easily, the high concentration of caffeine can then affect the baby.

Too much caffeine intake has been linked to lower birth weights (smaller than normal babies) and a higher risk of losing the pregnancy.

Personally, I switched to decaffeinated coffees and teas throughout both pregnancies and only took a cup of fully caffeinated drinks a day.

What happens when you take too much caffeine?

Too much caffeine (> 2-4 cups of coffee a day) can induce anxiety, or bipolar disorders in caffeine-sensitive people.

We know that caffeine is a drug that we can be addicted to. So what happens when you have a caffeine addiction and you're not getting your required fix?

Caffeine withdrawal symptoms include headaches, tiredness, depressed mood, you can't focus. And these can last from days to weeks, depending on how badly your body is dependent on caffeine.

It's possible to overdose on caffeine. When you take too much caffeine, it may kill you. However, you can't kill yourself by overdosing on coffee or tea because you will need to drink about 75 to 100 cups of coffee to do that. The deaths are usually attributed to taking too much caffeine in the form of tablets or powdered supplements [2,3,4].

So watch your caffeine intake if you’re supplementing with caffeine pills!

Are there any other applications to caffeine?

More than 85% of women aged 21 or older have cellulite. When fat tissue develops deep in the skin, it pushes up against the connective tissue to create the dimpling or 'orange peel effect.' How caffeine works to reduce cellulite is by breaking down the fatty tissue and draining it into the lymphatic system.

Caffeine has also been used in the formulation of eye cream to reduce puffiness under the eyes, by improving the circulation of the blood vessels.

Caffeine has also been used in hair products to help with male pattern baldness. How it works is that it stops an enzyme (5-a-reductase) from changing testosterone into its more active form (dihydrotestosterone, DHT) that is responsible for baldness. Caffeine relaxes the muscles near the hair follicles so that it's easier for the hair roots to get nutrients from the blood vessels. Like in the eye cream, when caffeine is applied to the scalp, it increases the blood circulation in the blood vessels. With more blood flowing, more nutrients go into the hair roots. More nutrients mean healthier roots and stronger hair. This helps to stimulate hair growth [5].

So, look for caffeine as an ingredient the next time you’re looking for a shampoo to help with hair growth and to reduce puffy eyes.

What’s the best way to make coffee?

Everyone wants to know how to make the best coffee. Other than beans, the quality of the coffee you get in your cup is dependent on:

  1. how much time the grounds spend in the water
  2. the ratio of water to the ground coffee
  3. Temperature of the water
  4. How much pressure (if you're doing espresso coffee)
  5. What kind of filter you are using (Paper or fine mesh, like in a Moka pot or french press )
  6. The brewing process itself.

A research paper that compared 8 ways of making coffee. They compared 3 types of espresso makers, pour-over method, Aeropress, French press, and a Moka pot [6].

The diagram below gives a summary of their findings.

An image of 3 graphs of barcharts to show the different levels of caffeine and soluble compound that is extracted from coffee using the different brewing methods.

Of the 8 types of ways of making coffee, using the espresso maker will give you coffee that has the highest concentration of caffeine, and all the compounds that give coffee the wonderful flavour. This means that espresso will give you the most bang for your buck. Cold brew coffee will give more caffeine and flavours, only because it’s usually served in a bigger cup.

Q&A

Some of you has asked some questions about coffee and I answered them in audio format!

Click on the button below to listen


Ultimately, coffee and caffeine are basically drugs. And with any drug, there’s always a chance of getting addicted. So use it in moderation and cut back when you think you are consuming too much.

Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding the effects of caffeine.

Further Reading

Caffeine Overdose: How You Can Die: Learn more oh how NOT to overdose on caffeine.

Creating the Perfect Espresso Recipe : Everyone loves a good cup of coffee. Here’s how you can learn how to make it.

23 Coffee Recipes That Let You Be Your Own Barista : More coffee drinks you can do at home

How to Get Rid of Cellulite on Thighs: Home Remedies and More : If you’ve ever wondered how you can DIY some beauty treatments here’s how you can do it.

Roast It Twice: Malaysian Coffee: Local coffee isn’t the same as what we would normally get at a barista cafe. This article is really informative about how different our local coffee is.

If you have a burning science question that you need answered, click on the button below.


You can connect with me on Twitter. Or on my personal website.

I would love to hear from you if you have any feedback about the topic, or the format, or if you want it to be more frequent, just reply to the email newsletter and I promise you that I'll get back to you.

Until the next issue, take care!

~ Lina

References

  1. Butt, Masood Sadiq, and M. Tauseef Sultan. 2011. ‘Coffee and Its Consumption: Benefits and Risks’. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition 51 (4): 363–73. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408390903586412.
  2. Dam, Rob M. van, Frank B. Hu, and Walter C. Willett. 2020. ‘Coffee, Caffeine, and Health’. New England Journal of Medicine, July. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMra1816604.
  3. ‘Caffeine Overdose: How You Can Die’. 2017. Healthline. 25 May 2017. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-you-can-die-from-caffeine.
  4. ‘Caffeine Overdose: Symptoms, Treatment, and How Much Is Too Much?’ 2019. 16 January 2019. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322933.
  5. Herman, A., and A. P. Herman. 2013. ‘Caffeine’s Mechanisms of Action and Its Cosmetic Use’. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology 26 (1): 8–14. https://doi.org/10.1159/000343174.
  6. Angeloni, Giulia, Lorenzo Guerrini, Piernicola Masella, Maria Bellumori, Selvaggia Daluiso, Alessandro Parenti, and Marzia Innocenti. 2019. ‘What Kind of Coffee Do You Drink? An Investigation on Effects of Eight Different Extraction Methods’. Food Research International 116 (February): 1327–35. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodres.2018.10.022.

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