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West J Med. Nov 1992; 157(5): 544–553.
PMCID: PMC1022034

Wake up and smell the coffee. Caffeine, coffee, and the medical consequences.


Caffeine is a methylxanthine whose primary biologic effect is antagonism of the adenosine receptor. Its presence in coffee, tea, soda beverages, chocolate, and many prescription and over-the-counter drugs makes it the most commonly consumed stimulant drug. Initially caffeine increases blood pressure, plasma catecholamine levels, plasma renin activity, serum free fatty acid levels, urine production, and gastric acid secretion. Its long-term effects have been more difficult to substantiate. Most of the caffeine consumed in the United States is in coffee, which contains many other chemicals that may have other biologic actions. The consumption of coffee is a self-reinforcing behavior, and caffeine dependence and addiction are common. Coffee and caffeine intake have been linked to many illnesses, but definitive correlations have been difficult to substantiate. Initial trials showing coffee's association with coronary disease and myocardial infarction have been difficult to reproduce and have many confounding variables. Recent studies showing a larger effect over long follow-up periods and with heavy coffee consumption have again brought the question of the role of coffee in disease states to the fore. Caffeine in average dosages does not seem to increase the risk of arrhythmia. At present there is no convincing evidence that caffeine or coffee consumption increases the risk for any solid tumor. The intake of coffee and caffeine has clearly been decreasing in this country over the past two decades, largely brought about by the increasing health consciousness of Americans. Although there have been many studies that hint that the fears of increased disease with coffee drinking may be warranted, many questions have yet to be answered about the health effects of coffee and caffeine use.

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Selected References

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