Your System On Nature’s Original Super Food

Friday Mar 21 | BY |
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Yerba Mate

“In Argentina, yerba mate is made in a gourd and
sipped through a silver straw a little at a time all day long.”

If caffeine is common in plants, why was it banned in Utah?

It’s not because caffeine is a natural plant pesticide.

America’s love-hate affair with caffeine goes back to the idea of moral character. In Victorian times, self-control was valued as a sign of upright behavior. On the other hand, it’s believed that the high energy of America’s working class is because it’s caffeine supercharged. We became the most powerful nation because we got more done. Can America ever find a balance between too much and not enough?

Do we have an inborn fear of caffeine for good reason, or is just it cultural bias?

A Tradition of Loving Caffeine

Starbucks did an excellent makeover of caffeine’s image, turning it into a friendly boutique item to be enjoyed where nice, calm people read the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, sipping lattes and nursing cappuccinos and working on their Macbooks.

Why are coffee shops and cafes so popular? Because that’s where the caffeine is, and there’s pleasure in drinking coffee and tea. It’s a social affair that people have engaged in around the world for thousands of years. America is just catching up.

People drink coffee in small cups all day long in Mediterranean countries, including Turkey and North Africa, as well as in Latin America (like Cuba and Brazil) and in many other countries that value the traditional way of drinking coffee. Even famous yogis in India recommend a morning boost with black coffee to yoga students.

Green tea is prized in China, Japan, and Korea. People drink it in tiny cups. In Argentina, yerba mate is made in a gourd and sipped through a silver straw a little at a time all day long.

Judging by traditional use, it seems that caffeine is safe, but at what dose? What are its benefits?

What Makes Caffeine a Drug?

In all states in the U.S., except Utah, caffeine remains a non-prescription legal drug. In nearly all countries in the world, caffeine is part of daily life.

Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid, and a stimulant drug. It’s found in varying quantities in the seeds, leaves, and fruit of more than 60 plants, where it’s thought to act as a natural pesticide.

Plants That Contain Caffeine

  • Cacao seed
  • Coffee bean
  • Cola nut
  • Guarana seed
  • Huito seed
  • Mate leaf
  • Tea leaf
  • Yaupon leaf and berry
  • Yoco bark

Synthetic caffeine as a drug is classified as a diuretic, central nervous system stimulant, and a methylxantine. Prescription methylxantines (theophylline, aminophylline) are used to relax the airways of the lungs making breathing easier. Researchers also found that small amounts of caffeine help asthmatics breathe easier.

What Makes Caffeine an Energy Booster?

Caffeine works because cyclic AMP gives your body energy. Adenosine monophosphate (AMP) is a biochemical subunit that links up with DNA and RNA. AMP is chemically related to phosphoric acid. (Coca-Cola contains both caffeine and phosphoric acid.)

Phosphodiesterase is an enzyme that breaks down cyclic AMP. Caffeine blocks the activity of phosphodiesterase, retaining AMP activity so caffeine stays in your blood longer, and you have more energy.

Though these substances come from natural sources, the synthetic versions in a can of Coke make them last longer in your bloodstream. However, not only is phosphoric acid part of the energy equation—it also adds the classic sharpness associated with Coke’s taste. Drop the pH to about 2.8, and that’s way too acidic for health.

Caffeine also triggers the release of adrenaline. This caffeine-adrenaline surge allows emotions to take charge, as in the “fight-or-flight” response, stimulating heart rate, raising blood pressure, and making you breathe faster and shallower. Less oxygen gets to the brain.

Doses between 100 and 250 mg improve alertness and mental performance, especially in people who are already tired. The ubiquitous electric coffee maker in offices for workers is supported by research that found that caffeine consumption helped reduce the risk of workplace accidents. It also seems to improve short-term memory if you’re exhausted, but researchers found it doesn’t help memory if you are well rested.

Positive and Negative Effects

Increased productivity is good, but caffeine doesn’t seem to make us more creative. It rapidly crosses the blood-brain barrier and has a quick effect on adrenaline, so you have more energy and get focused. But creative insights occur when the mind wanders, when you take a break from focused work.

When I’m writing, I strive for a balance between focus, as when researching and editing, and creativity, when I require insight and new ideas.

Caffeine’s Positive and Negative Effects


Don’t drink too much. Caffeine intoxication is a medical diagnosis with a DSM-5 code used in emergency room admissions for a temporary mental disorder with symptoms of restlessness, nervousness, excitement, redness of the face, stomach upset, muscle twitching, rambling speech, sleeplessness, and rapid and irregular heart rate.

Caffeine has a six-hour half-life. That means by bedtime, you still have a little caffeine in your system from a morning coffee. If you want to sleep better, you have to control caffeine intake or eliminate it completely.

Caffeine Tips

  • Use only natural sources of caffeine like coffee and green tea.
  • If you want to sleep, drink only one cup of coffee or tea in the morning.
  • For less caffeine and more flavor, drink espresso style coffee.
  • For sustained energy, drink small amounts throughout the day.

Virgin State

For optimal health, just like you would do a fast or cleansing program, take a break from caffeine. If you drink a lot of coffee daily, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Headaches are the most common. Other possible symptoms include fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and depression.

Reaching a complete caffeine-free, virgin state of mind is worth the effort. You’ll sleep better.

Remember, caffeine-containing plant-based beverages are nature’s original super foods. Treat them with love and respect.

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. June Hanson says:

    Much needed article. I drink, low temperature, slow roasted, in small batches, organic, Arabica coffee. That process, protects the anti-oxidant potency. Also, easy on the stomach. Coffee, is a diuretic. A glass of water following, can be very helpful. Grown in the rainforest, using ecological practices.

    Yes, sipping it slowly, is another secret. My own preference is, sweetened with less than an eighth of a tsp of stevia and thick with cocoanut cream. Beats Starbucks, any day!

    I alternate, with green tea with lemon. Yes, Doctor, I treat them, with love and respect.

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