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Caffeine: A Technical Description

In its pure, chemical form, caffeine is a bitter, white powder. It is known as an alkaloid. Caffeine has two major chemical relatives, theophylline (treats asthma) and theobromine (promotes urination and stimulates cardiac muscle).

Effects on the Body

Caffeine has many biological effects. It increases metabolic activity and heart rate, relaxes smooth muscle (especially in and around the lungs), increases the production of urine, and stimulates the body’s chemical messenger system (neurotransmitters). By increasing the production of stomach acid, caffeine helps the body absorb headache medicines faster than when no caffeine is present.

Medical Uses: more than a pick-me-up

When researchers began to understand how caffeine affects the body, a number of important medical uses were discovered. You may not know that caffeine:

  • Promotes alertness (but does not improve memory)
  • Helps stimulate breathing in newborns.
  • Can be used to treat asthma.

Some formulations of caffeine are used to promote weight loss in dangerously obese individuals. Scientists have shown that coffee can be good for patients with liver disease, but the amount of coffee needed to obtain these benefits remains unclear. The most recent research shows that compounds derived from caffeine may have the potential to treat some types of cancer.

Caffeine and Headache

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