Caffeine: A vitamin-like nutrient or adaptogen

Questions about tea and coffee, cancer and other degenerative diseases, and the hormones.

There is a popular health-culture that circulates mistaken ideas about nutrition, and coffee drinking has been a perennial target of this culture. It is commonly said that coffee is a drug, not a food, and that its drug action is harmful, and that this harm is not compensated by any nutritional benefit. Most physicians subscribe to most of these “common sense” ideas about coffee, and form an authoritative barrier against the assimilation of scientific information about coffee.

I think it would be good to reconsider coffee’s place in the diet and in health care.

Coffee drinkers have a lower incidence of thyroid disease, including cancer, than non-drinkers.

Caffeine protects the liver from alcohol and acetaminophen (Tylenol) and other toxins, and coffee drinkers are less likely than people who don’t use coffee to have elevated serum enzymes and other indications of liver damage.

Caffeine protects against cancer caused by radiation, chemical carcinogens, viruses, and estrogens.

Caffeine synergizes with progesterone, and increases its concentration in blood and tissues.

Cystic breast disease is not caused by caffeine, in fact caffeine’s effects are likely to be protective; a variety of studies show that coffee, tea, and caffeine are protective against breast cancer.

Coffee provides very significant quantities of magnesium, as well as other nutrients including vitamin B1.

Caffeine “improves efficiency of fuel use” and performance: JC Wagner 1989.

Coffee drinkers have a low incidence of suicide.

Caffeine supports serotonin uptake in nerves, and inhibits blood platelet aggregation.

Coffee drinkers have been found to have lower cadmium in tissues; coffee making removes heavy metals from water.

Coffee inhibits iron absorption if taken with meals, helping to prevent iron overload.

Caffeine, like niacin, inhibits apoptosis, protecting against stress-induced cell death, without interfering with normal cell turnover.

Caffeine can prevent nerve cell death.

Coffee (or caffeine) prevents Parkinson’s Disease (Ross, et al., 2000).

The prenatal growth retardation that can be caused by feeding large amounts of caffeine is prevented by supplementing the diet with sugar.

Caffeine stops production of free radicals by inhibiting xanthine oxidase, an important factor in tissue stress.

Caffeine lowers serum potassium following exercise; stabilizes platelets, reducing thromboxane production.

One definition of a vitamin is that it is an organic chemical found in foods, the lack of which causes a specific disease, or group of diseases. A variety of substances that have been proposed to be vitamins haven’t been recognized as being essential, and some substances that aren’t essential are sometimes called vitamins. Sometimes these issues haven’t had enough scientific investigation, but often nonscientific forces regulate nutritional ideas.

The definition of “a disease” isn’t as clear as text-book writers have implied, and “causality” in biology is always more complex than we like to believe.

Nutrition is one of the most important sciences, and should certainly be as prestigious and well financed as astrophysics and nuclear physics, but while people say “it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure that out,” no one says “it doesn’t take a nutritionist to understand that.” Partly, that’s because medicine treated scientific nutrition as an illegitimate step-child, and refused throughout the 20th century to recognize that it is a central part of scientific health care. In the 1970s, physicians and dietitians were still ridiculing the idea that vitamin E could prevent or cure diseases of the circulatory system, and babies as well as older people were given “total intravenous nutrition” which lacked nutrients that are essential to life, growth, immunity, and healing. Medicine and science are powerfully institutionalized, but no institution or profession has existed for the purpose of encouraging people to act reasonably.

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