The Gender Bias of Caffeine
Doesn't the mention of coffee refresh your mind? If there can be one single drink that enjoys the equal acceptability all around the world, coffee would probably win. But have you ever thought about what makes coffee appealing, so much so that many people are tempted to go for it cup after cup? Well, if you guessed caffeine, you're right. Caffeine, when added to water along with milk, is responsible for that intense bitter taste that so many crave. This brew not only tastes amazing, but also boosts energy levels with a feel of heightened alertness. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a single teaspoon of instant coffee (1.8 grams in weight) contains 57mg of caffeine, regardless of the amount of water, milk or cream added.
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It's well known that college (and now, high school) students often use caffeinated beverages to stay awake while studying for exams, and drivers use it to push through to their destinations. Without the cuppa de rigueur, most people find it difficult to get themselves going. While medically, caffeine is known as trimethylxanthine, it is also known by other chemical names like coffeine, theine, mateine, guaranine or methyltheobromine. It is naturally available from several plants, including coffee beans, guarana, yerba maté, cacao beans and tea. Caffeine is known to act as a natural insecticide since it paralyzes and kills insects that attempt to feed on the plants. It is a little known fact that the leaves of the tea plant contain more caffeine, around 5 percent, compared to the 1-2 percent in coffee beans.
Short-Term and Long-Term Effects
In humans, caffeine has been proven to stimulate the central nervous system, heart rate and respiration; it also has mood-altering properties and acts as a mild diuretic. Due to its stimulating nature, caffeine is definitely habit-forming, if not addictive…but unlike nicotine, caffeine is a lot more sociably acceptable. Nonetheless, it is not without any ill-effects on human health. It is known to cause contraction of muscles, increased heart rate, slowdown of blood flow to the stomach, and constriction of blood vessels on the skin. Caffeinated beverages are known to cause obesity in kids, and too many sweetened caffeinated drinks can lead to dental cavities. Too much caffeine can result in caffeine intoxication, characterized by nervousness, excitement, increased urination, insomnia, increased heart rates and sometimes hallucinations.
Effects of Caffeine on Men and Women
Although the effects of caffeine are legendary, they are perceived to have a stronger effect on boys than on girls. A study published in Behavioral Pharmacology observed the effects of caffeinated beverages in children between the ages 12 and 17.
Jennifer Temple, a neurobiologist at the University of Buffalo, expected caffeinated drinks to work more strongly on those who routinely consumed the most caffeine, regardless of sex. Instead, the results revealed a relationship between gender and the desire for caffeinated soda. It remains to be determined, though, as to why caffeine has a stronger effect on boys. Temple speculates it's because of the circulating hormones and their effects on the metabolism of caffeine.
A study was conducted where participants underwent a baseline test to determine if they could taste caffeine in the study drinks. In order to familiarize them with study drinks, the participants were given a week's supply of test soda, randomized to be caffeinated or noncaffeinated. They were instructed to drink a 32-ounce bottle every day for seven days, but no other soda or caffeinated products. In the second week, they were given a week's supply of the opposite drink. In the next part of the study, participants were equipped with two computers, one on which they played a computer game to earn caffeinated drinks and on the other, noncaffeinated drinks, although the drinks' caffeine status was not made known. The longer they played, the more difficult the game was designed to become. Surprisingly, the difference in the reinforcing potential of caffeine was noted to be between males and females and not, as expected, between high and low consumers.
Another study headed by researchers from the University of Barcelona, showed that caffeine has a greater effect on men than women and that these effects start just ten minutes after consumption. Volunteers were asked to consume either a classic espresso (100mg of caffeine) or a decaffeinated espresso (5mg of caffeine). Researchers looked for changes in alertness over the ensuing minutes or hours and observed that 45 minutes was the maximum time needed for caffeine concentration to reach the blood, but levels reach half this concentration within a few minutes. This effect was perceived to be greater in men as compared to women.
Dr. Euan Paul of the British Coffee Association said, "This new scientific study demonstrates interesting differences in the positive effects that caffeine may have on alertness between men and women, an area that has not been heavily researched in previous scientific investigations. We welcome further research to investigate with greater certainty any differences in the stimulant effects of caffeine that may be experienced between gender groups." One thing is clear–despite the recent findings, most doctors continue to recommend moderation with regard to the intake of caffeine. While these studies give hope to those who are hooked on their morning cup of coffee, there is still a long way to go to determine the long-term effects of caffeine use.