The Politics of Caffeine and Coffee

If you were under the impression that our understanding of caffeine and our laws governing its use originates with mild-mannered, dedicated research scientists, you should think again.  No drug has been and continues to be more of a political football than caffeine. An example is the way Jack James,  a renouned caffeine researcher, who now runs the Journal of Caffeine Research, has blackened caffeine’s name and fought for laws to restrict caffeine’s use by distorting the research results on the effects of caffeine on blood pressure and on other health problems.  James has made a career out of trying to scare people away from using caffeine, insisting, for example, that caffeine is dangerous to the heart because it increases blood pressure.
       Caffeine does raise blood pressure very slightly in naive users, that is, in people who have never tried caffeine before.  But this effect is transitory.  After even a few days, the blood pressure of most users returns to its earlier, lower levels.  In any case, even though long-term slight increases in blood pressure are strongly associated with increased heart pathology, it has been proven beyond any doubt that not only does caffeine not increase the incidence of this pathology but actually delivers powerful protective effects for the heart!
       Lifetime caffeine use provides a dose-dependent decrease of all causes of mortality.  That means that, on average, after correcting for extraneous variables, the more caffeine you consume throughout your life, the longer you are likely to live.  But caffeine’s greatest contribution to decreasing mortality rates and thus extending life is based on caffeine’s profoundly benefitial effects for the heart.  So whether or not caffeine can cause a slight increase in blood-presure in some people, it absolutely, positively does not hurt the heart!
       When our book The World of Caffeine received a long, favorable review in The New England Journal of Medicine, James wrote to the magazine, excoriating the editors for daring to publish such a review, insulting the author of the review, and demanding that the editors issue a retraction.  The editors didn’t comply, because the review had been written by Dr. Peter Dews, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Universtiy, and probably the leading caffeine scientist in the United States.
       Of course, James’ letter was never published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  However, the editors gave a copy of the letter to Dr. Dews, who was kind enough to read it to us to help us understand the dangerous climate of ignorance, irrationality, and bitterness that animates the anti-caffeine lobby.


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7 Responses to The Politics of Caffeine and Coffee

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  2. John says:

    Ya’ have to love a drink that helps your heart. Does the transient increase in blood pressure have any lasting effect on the heart or body? Do the few hours of elevated BP make a difference anywhere else in the body near term of long?

    • Please read the post “Surprised? Caffeine DOES NOT Increase Blood Pressure — PERIOD!” which contains the latest information on this topic. The short answer is that the transient increase in blood pressure– if it occurs at all– causes no lasting harm whatsoever. Caffeine’s extraordinary benefits to heart health prove this beyond any doubt.

      • mickelodian says:

        I would imagine like all substances that increase dopamine even the sight of a sup of coffee is enough to elevate blood pressure anyway…. my daughter used to go through the same process when passing by candy stores, pet stores and toy stores….

        In fact my guess is the ‘expectancy’ of a cup of coffee elevates blood pressure more than the coffee.

        Maybe what this ‘James’ guy would like is for legislators to outlaw ‘desire’….

  3. Joh as in Cuppa Joh says:

    Commentary as per yer wish. Great web site. I’m drinking a cup I brewed at home using Max’s Blend, espresso ground, from my local coffee shop “Muddy Waters” on Valencia at 24th. Nice and strong.

  4. Frank Sullivan says:

    Thanks, Bennett, Interesting commentary. I for one don’t believe coffee aka cafeine is dangerous except maybe to pregnant women (or their babies).

    • BAW says:

      You are completely right. Not only is caffeine not dangerous, it is truly a wonder drug, with more therapeutic and performance benefits than any other drug in the pharmacopeia. And you are also right that pregnancy and caffeine is the one danger zone for caffeine– please read my post about this!