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Caffeine is a substance belonging to the alkaloid family, a group of compounds widespread in plants.

Caffeine, like other alkaloids (atropine, nicotine, strychnine, morphine, etc.) is physiologically active on animals even at very low concentrations and is probably used by the plant as a defense mechanism against herbivores.

Caffeine also influences numerous biological reactions in humans. Some of these interactions are favorable for the organism while others are responsible for the side effects of this substance.

Caffeine (extracted mainly from coffee, Coffea arabica, Rubiaceae family), belongs to the group of purine alkaloids such as theophylline (from tea, Camellia sinensis, fam. Theaceae), and theobromine (from cocoa, Theobroma, Sterculiaceae family).

Caffeine is not only contained in coffee but is also found in other plants and foods. This is the case, for example, of coca cola, yerba mate, chocolate, cola-based energizing drinks, herbal products such as guarana, not to mention analgesics, anti-cellulite cosmetics or medicines for diseases from cooling. It is curious to note, for example, how tea leaves have a caffeine content that is approximately double (2-4%) compared to coffee seeds (1-2%); however, due to the different extraction method, the infusion contains approximately four times less caffeine than the leachate.

Drinks Caffeine content
CAFFE’ 85 mg (one cup).
COCA COLA 35-40 mg (one can)
THE 28 mg/150 ml (the greater the longer the infusion)
CACAO 100 mg/100 g
RED BULL 30 mg/100 ml
NOTE: in athletes it is necessary to take into account the summative effect of caffeine taken with various foods so as not to exceed the limits imposed by anti-doping regulations. The caffeine content of traditional mocha coffee is higher than that of espresso. In women, the use of some contraceptives (ethinyl estradiol) increases the duration of action of caffeine by approximately 50%.
INTESTINAL ABSORPTION TIME: approximately 45 minutes. HALF-LIFE: 2.5- 4.5 hours.

Effects of caffeine

Caffeine is the most used psychoactive drug in the world, its chemical conformation makes it suitable for interacting with specific biological receptors that regulate the functionality of the cardiovascular, endocrine and nervous systems.

The intestinal tract absorbs caffeine very quickly and peak plasma concentrations are observed approximately one hour after ingestion. However, its metabolism is rapid and significantly higher than other stimulants such as amphetamines. Already 3-6 hours after intake, plasma levels of caffeine are reduced by 50%.

Being lipophilic, caffeine has the ability to rapidly pass the blood-brain barrier (a kind of virtual wall present in the brain, responsible for preventing the passage of many molecules transported by the blood).

Caffeine can also cross the placenta and may be present in breast milk. During pregnancy and breastfeeding it is therefore advisable to significantly reduce the intake of coffee and other foods rich in caffeine.

Although the effects of this substance are numerous (as we will see in detail in a few lines), most of them are due to the stimulating effects that caffeine has on the entire organism.


excitability, improvement of reflexes and ability to concentrate, analgesic action,


thanks to its action as a competitive antagonist towards adenosine receptors, caffeine promotes the release of two hormones called adrenaline and norepinephrine.

Catecholamines promote an increase in body metabolism, heart rate, blood pressure and the number of respiratory acts (thus increasing blood oxygenation)


increased acid synthesis at the gastric level, increased diuresis;

if applied to the skin using specific cosmetics (creams, gels and patches), it is useful in the treatment of localized fat deposits.

Caffeine, sport and doping

If taken within the maximum permitted levels, caffeine has a positive effect on the performance of most athletes. Even moderate doses (200-400 mg) ingested one hour before the competition improve attention, concentration and resistance. Given the great individual variability, it is however advisable to experiment with its use in training before taking it in competitions.

An athlete tests positive for doping controls when the concentration of caffeine in his urine exceeds 0.012 mg/ml (= 12 mcg/ml). It is not easy to establish exactly what dose is capable of exceeding this threshold. Generally it is recommended not to drink more than 6-8 cups of espresso coffee or two to three cups of traditional coffee in the three hours before the competition.

By virtue of their high caffeine content, tea and coffee are often recommended to aid weight loss (in association with a correct diet). Several studies have confirmed this property, which finds a logical explanation in its stimulatory effect on basal metabolism. In particular, 500 mg of caffeine (the equivalent of 5 or 6 coffees) increases the basal metabolism by 10-15%. Translated into simpler and more immediate terms, a similar level of intake allows you to consume 100-500 more calories per day (depending on the subject's body size and above all the muscle mass).

Caffeine is a characteristic ingredient of cosmetics to treat cellulite and localized adiposity; applied to the skin, it promotes the mobilization of triglycerides from the subcutaneous adipose tissue mediated by lipolytic lipase.

OTHER USEFUL INFORMATION: chewing 1-2 coffee beans helps purify breath after a large meal. Coffee does not aid digestion, on the contrary, if taken with a lot of sugar or even worse with cream or alcohol, it slows it down. However, the stimulating effects of caffeine can give the sensation of seemingly improved digestion.

Negative effects of caffeine

Coffee reduces the absorption and bioavailability of some substances:

riboflavina or vitamin B2

calcium (reduce consumption in the presence of osteoporosis and bone fractures)



Caffeine intoxication caused by the massive intake of this substance (over 500-1000 mg depending on individual sensitivity) causes excessive excitement, nervousness, insomnia and tachycardia

Caffeine should therefore be taken in moderation in case of:

esophagitis and gastroesophageal reflux (in addition to increasing the harmful power of gastric juices, caffeine relaxes the esophageal sphincter, a kind of valve that prevents gastric contents from rising into the esophagus)

stomach ulcer



tachycardia, arrhythmias and heart problems in general


Prolonged use of caffeine tends to dampen the beneficial effects seen previously and, if taken in high doses, accentuates the collateral ones (acidosis, pulmonary edema, hallucinations).

Several studies have described the presence of a mild withdrawal syndrome.

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