What should you know about caffeine?

There is a lot of controversy connected with use of caffeine and its impact on health. Numerous enthusiasts of this compound emphasize its unique qualities, while a large group of opponents try to convince us that its effect on the body is temporary, and in the long run it might be disastrous. It's worth taking a while to think what is true. What is caffeine, what effects does it have on human body and what advantages and disadvantages can it bring?

Caffeine – what is it?

Caffeine (in diet supplements sometimes disguised under the name of 1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine) is an organic chemical compound classified as a purine alkaloid, naturally occurring in plants such as: Coffea arabica, Paulínia cupana, Camelia sinensis, Ilex paraguariensis, and works as a natural pesticide, toxic to insects. Due to its specific flavor it also deters herbivores. The largest concentration of caffeine can be found in young parts of a plant that are most likely to be consumed by other creatures.

How caffeine affects human body?

Caffeine is a stimulant of thermogenic properties (increasing heat production). Its stimulating properties are associated with blocking of adenosine receptors in your brain which reduces feeling of fatigue and stimulates to action. This effect is also linked with an impuls to release catecholamine from graininess of neurons. In addition, caffeine influences increased oxygen demand of your body, and accelerates heartbeat; and also increases exercise capacity, improves aerobic and strength endurance.

A separate issue is caffeine's thermogenic properties. There is no doubt that this is one of few safe and easily-accesible substances that aid weight loss by increasing the process of thermogenesis. This effect is associated with already mentioned increase of catecholamine level (such as noradrenaline and adrenaline). Moreover, some evidence can be found that this alkaloid succours after-training regeneration and reduces muscle soreness, though there are still some controversies over this statement.

The caffeine controversies

A lot of controversy circulates around caffeine. It refers mainly to effects caffeine could have on your health: a view on caffeine's negative impact on cardiovascular condition has recently become widespread. At long term use, this substance supposedly raises blood pressure. In practice, the noticeable effect of caffeine on blood pressure occurs only by its immediate adoption by persons sensitive to its effects. Individuals who use it on a regular basis will observe no such effect or it will be relatively small. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that caffeine can raise cortisol level, so called stress hormone, which is catabolic to muscle tissue. The effect of caffeine on secretion of cortisol is actually noted during its occasional intake. Regular consumption of this alkaloid is of little influence on the level of this hormone in your body.

Caffeine's influence on blood pressure and production of cortisol may depend on a dose. The bigger amount of the alkaloid is consumed, the greater is the impact on these parameters. Overuse of caffeine, or its usage in very high doses certainly does not serve well neither health nor your  well-being, not to mention sports results. There will be some more information on recommended usage of this substance in further parts of this article.

While discussing the caffeine controversies it is also worth mentioning that this substance affects your insulin sensitivity. Importantly, this negative impact is dismissed, at least partially, by compounds found in coffee and tea, classified as polyphenols. Therefore, natural sources of caffeine consumption may be more appropriate than any other form of supplementation. A separate issue is caffeine's effect on  mechanisms of daily control of circadian rhythm of sleep and wakefulness. Large doses of an alkaloid can lead to insomnia. In addition, caffeine-sensible people can experience irritability, confusion, hands shaking and a number of other unpleasant symptoms. Those people who do not tolerate it well,  should discontinue its adoption.

Caffeine vs. sports supplementation and weight loss

In sports supplementation caffeine is used primarily to wear down fatigue, increases training capacity and stimulate to action. There is evidence that adoption of appx. 200-400 mg of caffeine before physical exercises enhances both aerobic efficiency and muscle strength. Quite often its trermogenetic characteristics are used for fat reductions and supplements containing this alkaloid are recommended for slimming. It is worth to mention, thought, that the positive effects of caffeine on thermogenesis and lipolysis are aided by substances such as already mentioned coffee and tea polyphenols.