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Coffee and health

Coffee and health
Coffee contains several compounds which are known to affect human body chemistry. The coffee bean itself contains chemicals which are psychotropic (in a way some find pleasing) for humans as a by-product of their defense mechanism. These chemicals are toxic in large doses, or even in their normal amount when consumed by many creatures which may otherwise have threatened the beans in the wild.
Coffee contains caffeine, which acts as a stimulant. For this reason, it is often consumed in the morning and during working hours. Students preparing for examinations with late-night "cram sessions" frequently use coffee to keep themselves awake. Many office workers take a "coffee break" when their energy is diminished.

Recent research has uncovered additional stimulating effects of coffee which are not related to its caffeine content. Coffee contains an as yet unknown chemical agent which stimulates the production of cortisone and adrenaline, two stimulating hormones.

For occasions when one wants to enjoy the flavor of coffee with almost no stimulation, decaffeinated coffee (also called decaf) is available. This is coffee from which most of the caffeine has been removed, by the Swiss water process (which involves the soaking of raw beans to absorb the caffeine) or the use of a chemical solvent such as trichloroethylene ("tri", or the more popular methylene chloride, in a similar process. Another solvent used is ethyl acetate; the resultant decaffeinated coffee is marketed as "natural decaf" because ethyl acetate is naturally present in fruit. Extraction with supercritical carbon dioxide has also been employed.

Decaffeinated coffee usually loses some flavor over normal coffees and tends to be more bitter. There are also coffee alternatives that resemble coffee in taste but contain no caffeine (see below). These are available both in ground form for brewing and in instant form.

Caffeine dependency and withdrawal symptoms are well-documented; see Caffeine for more on the pharmacological effects of caffeine.
Published by Kristine on Apr 10, 2008

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