Caffeine: Therapeutic use
Last modified: Thursday, 25. December 2008 - 8:54 am
Caffeine is approved as a prescription drug for treating premature infants who are born before their lungs and brain are mature enough for automatic breathing. These babies may have a condition called apnea, in which they cease breathing, which could cause damage to the brain and other organs. Caffeine has been demonstrated to aid in keeping premature babies breathing regularly. But a study published in 2001 found that very-low-birth-weight preemies also failed to gain weight when treated for their apnea with caffeine. Apparently the caffeine raised the babies’ metabolic rate, causing them to burn more calories.
Many headache medications also contain caffeine, which can increase the effectiveness of the other drugs that alleviate both tension and migraine headaches. People who get migraines can have their headaches controlled by pills that combine caffeine with aspirin or acetaminophen. A study in 2000 showed that the effect of caffeine also increases the effectiveness of ibuprofen.
A study in 1999 confirmed that rebound headaches will occur if regular caffeine users suddenly cease taking the stimulant. To cut down on heavy caffeine use, it was recommended that all forms of caffeine (including caffeine-containing medications) be temporarily eliminated.
In 1999, it was reported that caffeine combined with alcohol could prevent damage from strokes. However, the doses that provide the benefit are quite specific, and the treatment has to be given at a time quite close to the stroke. Another study casts doubt on these findings, and indeed suggests that caffeine cuts blood flow in the brain, an action that would be harmful in people suffering strokes. Then, a report published in 2001 concluded that caffeine could have adverse consequences for patients trying to recover from stroke. By slowing blood flow through the brain, caffeine could starve already struggling nerve cells.
A functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of the brain can actually determine between the regular and the occasional coffee drinker. Caffeine consistently slows blood flow by 25% to the gray matter of the brain, which contains the cells, and by 20% to the white matter, which contains the connecting nerve fibers. Heavy users of caffeine show more blood flow in the gray matter in the front of the brain when they had abstained for 30 hours, compared to those who infrequently ingest caffeine. With fMRI, the doctor can look inside the brain and observe the phenomenon of caffeine withdrawal in action.
The therapeutic treatment of obesity with caffeine is another controversial area of interest. Many over-the-counter diet aids contain caffeine, but it has not yet been determined whether there is a medically safe way to use caffeine as a fat fighter. A 2000 study showed that a combination of herbal ephedra and caffeine lowered participants’ body weight by both decreasing fat and decreasing the body mass index (BMI). Losses were 15 and 7 pounds for those taking the herbal supplement and a placebo, respectively.
Green tea with caffeine also seeks to weigh in as an herbal fat fighter. The thermogenic effect of tea is carried out at various control points in the adrenergic pathway. Caffeine, through the action of phosphodiesterase enzymes, indirectly boosts the adrenergic signals. However, there is no direct evidence that green tea successfully allows people to lose weight and keep it off.