Put down that cup of coffee! We’re kidding. Drink up, as much as you want

The Atlantic is vying to be our favorite magazine. (Namarupa is still in the lead.)

Here’s why:

Officially, the American Medical Association recommends conservatively that “moderate tea or coffee drinking likely has no negative effect on health, as long as you live an otherwise healthy lifestyle.” That is a lackluster endorsement in light of so much recent glowing research. Not only have most of coffee’s purported ill effects been disproven — the most recent review fails to link it the development of hypertension — but we have so, so much information about its benefits. We believe they extend from preventing Alzheimer’s disease to protecting the liver. What we know goes beyond small-scale studies or limited observations. The past couple of years have seen findings, that, taken together, suggest that we should embrace coffee for reasons beyond the benefits of caffeine, and that we might go so far as to consider it a nutrient.


That there were no major differences in risk reduction between regular and decaf coffee suggests there’s something in it, aside from its caffeine content, that could be contributing to these observed benefits. It also demonstrates that caffeine was in no way mitigating coffee’s therapeutic effects. Of course, what we choose to add to coffee can just as easily negate the benefits — various sugar-sweetened beverages were all significantly associated with an increased risk of diabetes. A learned taste for cream and sugar (made all the more enticing when they’re designed to smell like seasonal celebrations) is likely one of the reasons why we associate coffee more with decadence than prudence.


But that caffeine is only mechanism behind coffee’s health effects is supported by a small study of 554 Japanese adults from October that looked at coffee and green tea drinking habits in relation to the bundle of risk factors for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes known together as metabolic syndrome. Only coffee — not tea — was associated with reduced risk, mostly because of dramatic reductions observed in serum triglyceride levels.

So aside from caffeine, just what are you getting in a cup, or two, or six? Thousands of mostly understudied chemicals that contribute to flavor and aroma, including plant phenols, chlorogenic acids, and quinides, all of which function as antioxidants. Diterpenoids in unfiltered coffee may raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. And, okay, there’s also ash which, to be fair, is no more healthful than you would think — though it certainly isn’t bad for you.


And the more they drank, the longer they lived. If you’re into that sort of thing.

We’ll let you check out just what that last sentence is referring to — but how can it not be good?

If it weren’t almost 8 p.m., I’d fire the coffee maker up now.

Posted by Steve


Why we drink coffee, not soda

The quick teaser on a story on NPR this morning says it all: “Each day people consume a drug derived from a natural insecticide. That drug is caffeine.”

And that’s why we only get our caffeine from coffee (and maybe chocolate here and there). Remember: “No coffee, no prana.” Not: “No insecticide-derived caffeine, no prana.”

For the full interview with author Murray Carpenter, click here. His book, “Caffeinated,” comes out today. His pretty stripped-down webpage is here.

And from the Amazon book description:

The most popular drug in America is a white powder. No, not that powder. This is caffeine in its most essential state. And Caffeinated reveals the little-known truth about this addictive, largely unregulated drug found in coffee, energy drinks, teas, colas, chocolate, and even pain relievers.

We’ll learn why caffeine has such a powerful effect on everything from boosting our mood to improving our athletic performance as well as how—and why—brands such as Coca-Cola have ducked regulatory efforts for decades. We learn the differences in the various ways caffeine is delivered to the body, how it is quietly used to reinforce our buying patterns, and how it can play a role in promoting surprising health problems like obesity and anxiety.

Drawing on the latest research, Caffeinated brings us the inside perspective at the additive that Salt Sugar Fat overlooked.

OK, time for a second cup.

UPDATE: Bobbie had more opportunity than I to hear this guy making the rounds on Wednesday. Here’s a bit from the Marketplace story:

The soft drink industry is a $70 billion industry  and Carpenter estimates that coffee is another $30 billion.

“It’s a huge business,” he says.

And that’s because the effect caffeine has on us isn’t too different from nicotine. We reach for a daily cup of coffee or can of soda because we’re addicted.

“I think that they consistently downplay the importance of caffeine in their products, in terms of how appealing it makes the products to the consumer.

And here’s really to out point, from the Sun Journal in Maine (he lives in Maine):

The focus of the book is not coffee as much as the substance slipped into soft drinks and so-called “energy drinks.”

“A lot of people have written beautifully about coffee and I’m glad they have. But the powdered caffeine industry has gotten so little coverage,” Carpenter says. “It took me so long to figure it out. It was a real puzzle.”

The pieces started to come together with Monsanto. The Missouri chemical giant made caffeine for Coca-Cola starting in 1905, Carpenter discovered.

Time for cup No. 3!

Posted by Steve

Prana watch: Not all caffeinated drinks are created equal

It’s been a while since coffee/caffeine-related news has passed through the Confluence Countdown’s transcom. But low and behold, some has churned out on our old dotmatrix printer, and it isn’t entirely favorable.

But, as with most science, you just have to parse it to your liking. We’ll get to that. First off, the bad news: Energy drinks are bad.

Shocking, I know. And, actually, it’s sort of their shocking-like effects that suggest why they are bad:

To get more detail on exactly how energy drinks caused medical problems, Dörner and his colleagues imaged the hearts of 15 men and three women with a 1.5-Tesla MRI scanner. Then the volunteers drank a beverage containing high amounts of caffeine and taurine and had their hearts scanned again.

One hour after consuming the experimental energy drink, the researchers found that radiologic measurements of heart strain were significantly higher than at baseline.

Specifically, the team measured the peak strain and peak systolic strain rate of the heart’s left ventricle, which is responsible for pumping oxygenated blood from the lungs to the aorta and then on to the rest of the body. Both showed changes that were too big to be due to chance. In addition, the team found a small change in peak diastolic strain rate, but it wasn’t large enough to be statistically significant. (In the language of blood pressure, the systolic measurement quantifies the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle contracts and diastolic measurement quantifies pressure in the arteries when the heart muscle is relaxed between heartbeats.)

The researchers also looked for changes in heart rate and blood pressure before and after volunteers consumed the energy drink, but the readings in both cases were essentially the same, according to the study’s abstract.

That’s courtesy of the LA Times.

So let it not be said that we only publish good news on the caffeine front. But I promised some parsing, so here goes.

A significant difference in our minds — and, frankly, in the mind of our doctor — is whether you are getting your caffeine from a natural or artificial source. Our doctor, years ago, told me that if I had to have caffeine (and you know what the answer to that “if” question was), get it naturally. If you read the full Times piece, you’ll notice that energy drinks can have up to three times the caffeine of coffee (or, admittedly, soda). That doesn’t happen naturally.

I’m sure if one wanted to down a full gallon of coffee, one could replicate the results. But who would do something like that?

So… remember: Prana is natural. Keep your prana boosts natural, too.

Posted by Steve

So coffee or tea instead of coke or, yes, energy drinks.

Caffeine: The world’s most popular psychoactive drug

The I’m sure not coffee-fueled bloggers/writers over at Smithsonian magazine have answered a question that we’re too tired and sleepy to ask: Why we get addicted to caffeine.

And just so no one thinks we don’t realize there’s a teeny, tiny, itsy-bitsy downside to drinking coffee, we’re passing on how humans get too attached to what they claim is the “world’s most popular psychoactive drug”:

Soon after you drink (or eat) something containing caffeine, it’s absorbed through the small intestine and dissolved into the bloodstream. Because the chemical is both water- and fat-soluble (meaning that it can dissolve in water-based solutions—think blood—as well as fat-based substances, such as our cell membranes), it’s able to penetrate the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain.

Structurally, caffeine closely resembles a molecule that’s naturally present in our brain, called adenosine (which is a byproduct of many cellular processes, including cellular respiration)—so much so, in fact, that caffeine can fit neatly into our brain cells’ receptors for adenosine, effectively blocking them off. Normally, the adenosine produced over time locks into these receptors and produces a feeling of tiredness.

When caffeine molecules are blocking those receptors, they prevent this from occurring, thereby generating a sense of alertness and energy for a few hours. Additionally, some of the brain’s own natural stimulants (such as dopamine) work more effectively when the adenosine receptors are blocked, and all the surplus adenosine floating around in the brain cues the adrenal glands to secrete adrenaline, another stimulant.

Then it goes into an even more fascinating aspect: why we need more and more:

In people who take advantage of this process on a daily basis (i.e. coffee/tea, soda or energy drink addicts), the brain’s chemistry and physical characteristics actually change over time as a result. The most notable change is that brain cells grow more adenosine receptors, which is the brain’s attempt to maintain equilibrium in the face of a constant onslaught of caffeine, with its adenosine receptors so regularly plugged (studies indicate that the brain also responds by decreasing the number of receptors for norepinephrine, a stimulant). This explains why regular coffee drinkers build up a tolerance over time—because you have more adenosine receptors, it takes more caffeine to block a significant proportion of them and achieve the desired effect.

And the piece ends, as it of course should, on a high note: “The good news is that, compared to many drug addictions, the effects are relatively short-term.” After a week or two, you can break the addiction as you get all those receptors back to their “baseline levels.”

But why would we want to do that?

Posted by Steve


Coffee may not help with … what word am I looking for? Creativity

The aim here is to demonstrate how reliable all our pro-coffee posts have been in the past.

Because this time we’re pointing you toward some negatives about coffee/caffeine. See, we’re trustworthy!

The New Yorker has a story online on how caffeine might not be the power boost to creativity that it often gets portrayed as — via someone like Balzac, who gutted down the rumored equivalent of 50 cups of coffee per day.

Here’s the crux of the issue:

The more their mind wandered when they stepped away, the better they fared at being creative. In fact, the benefit was not seen at all when the subjects engaged in an unrelated but demanding task.

In other words, a break in intense concentration may increase unconscious associative processing. That, in turn, allows us to perceive connections that we would otherwise miss. Letting our minds wander may also increase communication between the brain’s default mode network—the parts of our brain that are more active when we’re at rest—and its executive areas, which are used in so-called higher reasoning and decision-making functions. These two regions become activated right before we solve problems of insight. Caffeine prevents our focus from becoming too diffuse; it instead hones our attention in a hyper-vigilant fashion.

And then there’s this: “Caffeine also inhibits another mental process that’s necessary for creative thinking: sleep.”

All is not lost, though. The piece — perhaps driven by the writer’s own desire to redeem the humble cup of joe — gets to a best-case scenario: You drink coffee while researching or investigating ideas and information, and then you get into a more mind-wandering state when it comes time to be creative.

Of course, this may be moot given Ashtanga’s set sequence. For it, you really don’t need much creativity. (And don’t go making up your own sequences too soon.)

Posted by Steve

Caffeine intoxication, withdrawal, now both official mental conditions

Call us crazy…

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

We saw this as the week rolled to a close:

Caffeine, that most-benign seeming drug of choice that keeps so many of us fueled through the day, is now the basis of two official diagnoses in the mental-health bible released in May, with a third brewing for consideration. The latest version of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to as DSM-5, includes both caffeine intoxication and withdrawal. These conditions are considered mental disorders when they impair a person’s ability to function in daily life.

I obviously can report that these conditions never impair our abilities to function. That may be because we are careful never to hit withdrawal stages.

Beyond this news — caffeine intoxication already had been an official disorder, with withdrawal in the last version still up for more “research.” That research bumped up its status this time around, which is noteworthy because “caffeine use disorder” — essentially when someone has side effects from caffeine but can’t quit — is now undergoing more research, so it could end up an official disorder in the future.

Here are some smarty-pants as quoted in the Wall St. Journal article:

“Caffeine intoxication and withdrawal both occur fairly frequently but only rarely cause enough clinically significant impairment to be considered a mental disorder,” said Allen Frances, who chaired the task force that developed the previous version of the DSM and has been a vocal critic of the latest version. “We shouldn’t medicalize every aspect of life and turn everyone into a patient,” he added.

Alan Budney, a member of the DSM-5 Substance-Related Disorders Work Group, said the research in support of caffeine withdrawal as a diagnosis is substantial. It is a “clinically meaningful” diagnosis that could be useful to psychiatrists and other health-care workers seeing someone experiencing such symptoms, said Dr. Budney, a psychiatry professor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.

“The symptoms [of caffeine withdrawal] overlap with a lot of other disorders and medical problems,” said Laura Juliano, a psychology professor at American University who advised the DSM-5 work group. “We’ve heard many times people went to the doctor for chronic headaches or because they thought that they had the flu and it turns out it was caffeine withdrawal and they didn’t even know it.”

The story also notes that while caffeine is addictive, it has shown all those benefits we keep passing along to you. It also gives you all the details on what just defines intoxication and withdrawal:

To be diagnosed with caffeine withdrawal, a patient must experience at least three of five symptoms within 24 hours of stopping or reducing caffeine intake: headache, fatigue or drowsiness, depressed mood or irritability, difficulty concentrating, and flulike symptoms such as nausea or muscle pain.


Caffeine intoxication is defined as having five of a dozen symptoms. Among these are restlessness, flushed face, nervousness, insomnia, muscle twitching, irregular heartbeat and rambling flow of thought and speech. Again, these symptoms must make it extremely hard to function at work or home. Intoxication can occur at levels in excess of 250 milligrams of caffeine, according to the DSM. But experts say most cases of intoxication result from much higher doses.

And, yes, those two paragraphs basically describe situation normal with us.

Posted by Steve