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Healthy Lifestyle

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Health benefits of caffeine could outweigh negatives

The pitfalls of caffeine consumption are well known, but the various health benefits of caffeine are often overlooked. Excessive caffeine can make a person jittery and unable to fall asleep. However, caffeine can also prevent disease by boosting the immune system.

Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid that acts as a psychoactive stimulant drug. It is a naturally produced plant product that is most often found in coffee beans, tea and cocoa. Whether caffeine addiction is real or not is open for debate; however, regular coffee drinkers who stop drinking coffee have experienced caffeine withdrawal symptoms. In the last 60 years, researchers have conducted thousands of studies on caffeine and they're continuing to study whether or not it's addictive.

Though few might be willing to say with certainty that caffeine is "good" for you, caffeine does have its strong points.

* Fights damage-causing free radicals: Free radicals are molecules in the body that can attack healthy cells and cause damage that precipitates disease. Antioxidants are substances that eliminate free radicals in the body. Recent studies have shown that caffeine's antioxidant activity actually fights free radicals quite well. In a study published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry B, the different chemical mechanisms of caffeine were studied in relation to free radicals. Researcher Jorge Rafael Leon-Carmona of Mexico found that a mechanism called radical adduct formation, or RAF, was the main reason caffeine can protect against damage from free radicals.

* Improves memory and brain function: Harvard University researchers have determined that men who drink four cups of caffeinated coffee a day are half as likely to develop Parkinson's disease as those who don't. The results are believed to be linked to caffeine's stimulation of dopamine production in the body. Dopamine is a brain chemical that is responsible for alertness, problem-solving capabilities and feelings of pleasure. An Austrian study says caffeine can boost cognitive abilities for about 45 minutes, which means it may help individuals score better on tests or perform better in business meetings. There is also evidence that caffeine can delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer's disease. That's because caffeine can block adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine slows down the neurological system so that the body can relax. However, adenosine may also contribute to the buildup of amyloid-beta, a toxic brain plaque that's associated with Alzheimer's disease.

* Helps the heart: Although caffeine can cause blood pressure to rise because it constricts the arteries, caffeine does not appear to contribute much to the development of heart disease. In fact, scientists at Brooklyn College found people who drank four cups of caffeinated coffee daily had a 53 percent lower risk of dying of heart disease than those who didn't consume a cup of Joe. Individuals who do not already have hypertension can tolerate moderate coffee drinking, and over time their bodies actually may become accustomed to the temporary rise in blood pressure.

* Aids with type 2 diabetes risk reduction: More than 125,000 participants were studied in a 20-year look at coffee consumption and its potential relationship to type 2 diabetes. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham & Women's Hospital have found individuals who drank caffeinated coffee lowered their risk for type 2 diabetes considerably. Men saw a 50 percent reduced risk, and women saw their risk reduced by 30.

* Alleviates headaches: Caffeine is often a hidden component of analgesics. Working in conjunction with the pain medication, caffeine helps the body absorb the pain reliever more efficiently. This requires a smaller amount of the drug and brings relief faster. Some other people surmise that since caffeine is a natural mood booster, it also helps the body to feel better faster. Following this line of thinking, caffeine may help to prevent other pain associated with exercise, fibromyalgia and arthritis.

Sometimes caffeine is seen as the villain in a healthy living plan. Yet there is much research and ever-evolving theories that caffeine may be more help than hindrance.

Gadsden Times