Massimiliano Fabian, Demus Spa Ceo, explains the role and the effects of caffeine and how it affects health in an extract from the book CoffeExperts, the encyclopedia book focused on coffee we talked about here. Soon in these pages, there will be other insights from the various coffee expert authors who contributed to the writing of CoffeExperts.
Caffeine and health
MILAN, Italy – “Degusto ergo sum. We are, among other things, what we ingest, what we eat and drink. This is why the quality of our food, our beverages, even our coffee matters. In the world of coffee, particular attention has always been paid to the possible presence of contaminants and potentially toxic substances.
The case of the presence of Ochratoxin A is an example, as this fungal metabolite, toxic to health, can be present in some coffees. Current legislation allows a maximum content of 5 ppb (parts per billion) of this substance in roasted coffee.
Demus has carried out studies on this matter, leading to the publication of two papers on the occasion of the ASIC Conference in 2001: one related to the possibility of removing Ochratoxin A from green coffee by extraction using dichloromethane, and the other on the statistic correlation between the higher incidence of the toxin in low quality coffees coming from areas where there is less attention and control in processing green coffee.”
The stimulant of the nervous system
“If we talk about health, we cannot fail to consider the physiological effects of caffeine, the undisputed protagonist of the cup of coffee. This alkaloid is the most studied substance, present in a very high number of scientific publications.
It acts as a natural defense of the plant, protecting it from external aggressions thanks to its repellent action.
The Canephora variety takes the name of Robusta precisely because of its higher caffeine content compared to Arabica, thanks to which it is more resistant. Caffeine is found in plants and beverages other than coffee, cocoa and tea for example, as well as guaraná. It is a mild stimulant of the nervous system, which is toxic and lethal if taken in amounts of about 150 mg/Kg; something which can’t really happen by consuming coffee and other foods that naturally contain it.”
The ideal caffeine amount
“Caffeine has been studied in detail by EFSA, the European Food Safety Authority. On the base of these studies, the authority recom mended an intake limit of up to 400 mg per day for the average healthy consumer; an amount which is roughly equivalent to four regular espresso coffees a day or two or three cups of filter coffee.
The caffeine amount will depend on the type of coffee used to prepare the beverage (Arabica, Robusta or a blend of the two), on the type of preparation and on the quantity of beverage that is obtained.
Caffeine has a dose dependent effect and its metabolisation varies depending on the individual: if taken in excessive amounts (indicatively over 1 g per day) it can lead to undesirable effects such as hyperarousal, nervousness and insomnia.
Caffeine doesn’t cause addiction and a prolonged interruption of its intake can only lead to transient effects such as drowsiness and headache, which disappear within a few days. The diagram aside shows significantly how much caffeine is contained in the different drinks. A cup of espresso (30 ml), for instance, can vary from 35 to 100 mg, with an average caffeine content of 60 mg.”
“Decaffeinated coffee is coffee from which almost all the caffeine has been removed by extraction; almost everywhere in Europe, regulations require that decaffeinated coffee must not contain more than 0.10% of caffeine in the roasted coffee beans, equivalent to about 3 mg in an espresso cup. With such an amount, there are no relevant physiological effects on the human body.
Decaffeinated coffee allows people who are harmed by the consumption of caffeine to drink coffee and to enjoy doing so.
Coffee wax and its effect on the human body: when coffee is decaffeinated, especially by the Demus process, waxes are also extracted. These substances potentially irritate the gastric lining and affect a small percentage of the population by impacting the gastric acid secretion in sensitive individuals.
The waxes, which are found in the bean’s cortex, make up approximately 0.2-0.3 % of the total weight of the coffee bean and are chemically defined as 5-hydroxytryptamides (C-5-HT). Usually, their average content is higher in Arabica than in Robusta, and they are decomposed during roasting, but only to a limited extent.
There is a product called dewaxed coffee from which the waxes have been largely extracted without carrying out a complete decaffeination process, lowering their content to less than 250 mg/Kg (limit established by former Ministerial Decree of 22/6/1983, which is now repealed but is still used as a reference for good industrial practice).
Dewaxed coffee guarantees the above mentioned beneficial effects on the stomach, being therefore stomach-friendly, and a lower caffeine percentage.
Both dewaxed and decaffeinated coffee guarantee the positive effects of coffee consumption (even though a distinction must be made based on the caffeine content of the consumed coffee).”
“The majority of the existing studies have been carried out by focusing on the effects of the alkaloid content; though, being rich in nutraceutics, coffee contains other substances which have beneficial effects on the human body.
Coffee has a multitude of positive effects if it is consumed within reason. For example, it causes positive effects on the metabolism, protects the human body from some forms of tumour, helps the functioning of the cerebral cortex, improves short-term memory, heightens alertness and speeds up the reflexes; it increases endurance during prolonged physical exercise, it slightly promotes weight loss, it reduces uricaemia, it decreases the risk of developing some conditions such as cirrhosis of the liver, type 2 diabetes and degenerative illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. It moreover offers protection against colon and liver cancer.
Analysis and control in the coffee supply chain: health authorities ask producers to analyse for a whole series of individual substances and chemical-physical parameters throughout the whole supply chain, when in the process of authorising the launch of a product on the market.”
Below is a (non-exhaustive) list of the main substances to be analyzed:
• acrylamide, for which we have a reference limit of 400 ppb (parts per billion) in roasted coffee and 850 ppb in instant coffee;
• furan and methylfuran, for which the exposure limits are being researched by EFSA;
• ochratoxin A, whose legal limits are 10 ppb in instant coffee and 5 ppb in roasted coffee;
• caffeine, the maximum content of which must not exceed 0.10% in decaffeinated coffee. Its level is measured in any case, even if it is indicated on the label for marketing-related reasons;
• moisture level, to prevent the proliferation of moulds;
• nutrition chart, if necessary for export to certain countries, or to be reported on the label;
• pesticides, for which a number of discussions are under way involving many consuming and producing countries. The input that Europe can provide to producing countries is to limit the use of specific pesticides or plant protection products potentially harmful to human health and the environment;
• heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and copper;
• microbiological analyses to verify the presence of potential contamination in the packaging lines;
• check for defects in the coffee, as the filth-test8 or classification according to international standard ISO 10470 or Presidential Decree n. 470 of 1973.