Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Exerc Immunol Rev. 2014;20:68-93.

Alkaloids and athlete immune function: caffeine, theophylline, gingerol, ephedrine, and their congeners.


Plant alkaloids are found in foods, beverages, and supplements consumed by athletes for daily nutrition, performance enhancement, and immune function improvement. This paper examined possible immunomodulatory roles of alkaloids in exercise contexts, with a focus on human studies. Four representative groups were scrutinized: (a) caffeine (guaranine, mateine); (b) theophylline and its isomers, theobromine and paraxanthine; (c) ginger alkaloids including gingerols and shogaol; and (d) ephedra alkaloids such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Emerging or prospective alkaloid sources (Goji berry, Noni berry, and bloodroot) were also considered. Human in vitro and in vivo studies on alkaloids and immune function were often conflicting. Caffeine may be immunomodulatory in vivo depending on subject characteristics, exercise characteristics, and immune parameters measured. Caffeine may exhibit antioxidant capacities. Ginger may exert in vivo anti-inflammatory effects in certain populations, but it is unclear whether these effects are due to alkaloids or other biochemicals. Evidence for an immunomodulatory role of alkaloids in energy drinks, cocoa, or ephedra products in vivo is weak to nonexistent. For alkaloid sources derived from plants, variability in the reviewed studies may be due to the presence of unrecognized alkaloids or non-alkaloid compounds (which may themselves be immunomodulatory), and pre-experimental factors such as agricultural or manufacturing differences. Athletes should not look to alkaloids or alkaloid-rich sources as a means of improving immune function given their inconsistent activities, safety concerns, and lack of commercial regulation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for International Society of Exercise and Immunology
    Loading ...
    Support Center