Caffeine in your supplement: is it natural or synthetic? Why it is important to be able to distinguish between products that naturally contain caffeine and those that contain added synthetic caffeine.
In today's cafe culture, it is hard to believe that caffeine is classified as a drug, never mind the world's most widely-used drug. This is because, like alcohol and tobacco, caffeine has addictive qualities, can cause withdrawal symptoms and actually has toxic levels. What differentiates caffeine from nicotine and alcohol is its worldwide social acceptance and its comparatively lax regulations--there is no "C" for caffeine in "BATF BATF
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms " (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the same agency that doesn't allow flavor extracts to be even slightly out of their specified alcohol range).
It is still surprising, however, that there are caffeine-containing botanical extracts available that are fortified with synthetic caffeine and that this adulteration Mixing something impure with something genuine, or an inferior article with a superior one of the same kind.
Adulteration usually refers to mixing other matter of an inferior and sometimes harmful quality with food or drink intended to be sold. has largely gone unnoticed by the industry or by enforcement agencies, such as FDA FDA
Food and Drug Administration
n.pr See Food and Drug Administration.
n.pr the abbreviation for the Food and Drug Administration. or FTC FTC
See Federal Trade Commission (FTC). . This is in spite of the legal requirement by FDA for manufacturers to label added caffeine in their ingredient statement, while caffeine from natural sources does not need to be listed (for instance, products made from tea or coffee do not need the word "caffeine" on the label). Any product containing added caffeine, even if the product also contains a natural source of caffeine, would be considered misbranded mis·brand
tr.v. mis·brand·ed, mis·brand·ing, mis·brands
To brand or label misleadingly or fraudulently.
Adj. 1. if caffeine is not listed in the ingredient label.
Caffeine is found naturally in over 60 species of plants, but only a few of these sources are sold as natural sources of caffeine in this industry: guarana guarana /gua·ra·na/ (gwah-rah´nah) [Tupi-Guarani] the Brazilian woody vine Paullinia cupana, or a dried paste prepared from its seeds which is used as a stimulant and tonic in folk medicine and for the treatment of headache in (Paullinia cupana), yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) and kola nut (Cola acuminate acuminate /acu·mi·nate/ (ah-ku´mi-nat) sharp-pointed.
Tapering to a point; pointed.
sharp-pointed. ). Since it is difficult to prove when these products are for tified with synthetic caffeine, some manufacturers have been able to get away with passing off a cheaper product for a more expensive one (products containing 100% naturally-occurring caffeine are more expensive to produce). There is no chemical difference between natural and synthetic caffeine, so the standard HPLC HPLC high-performance liquid chromatography.
high performance liquid chromatography.
HPLC High-performance liquid chromatography Lab instrumentation A highly sensitive analytic method in which analytes are placed assay for caffeine only verifies the total caffeine content of the product, not its origin.
There are some ways to determine adulteration though. For some products, such as powdered herbs, close examination under a microscope may visibly show the presence of synthetic caffeine because its white crystalline appearance contrasts against a normally colored matrix. A 1998 study attempted to prove authenticity of commercial guarana products based on the ratio of methylxanthines (caffeine, theobromine the·o·bro·mine
A bitter, colorless alkaloid found in chocolate products and used as a diuretic, vasodilator, and myocardial stimulant.
an alkaloid prepared from dried ripe seed of the tropical American tree and theophylline theophylline /the·oph·yl·line/ (the-of´i-lin) a xanthine derivative found in tea leaves and prepared synthetically; its salts and derivatives act as smooth muscle relaxants, central nervous system and cardiac muscle stimulants, and ) to other naturally occurring phytochemicals, such as polyphenols. In this study, the authenticity of a number of the commercial products tested was in question due to their unexpected chromatographic profiles. However, this method may not prove authenticity of an extract since various extraction methods can potentially alter the naturally-occurring ratios of these compounds.
A German paper published in 2002 describes a more reliable technique using isotope ratio mass spectrometry Isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) is a specialist field of mass spectrometry, concerned with measuring the relative abundance of atomic isotopes. Operation to confirm whether any natural source of caffeine also contains synthetic caffeine. This procedure is based on the fact that the 13C/12C and 18O/16O ratios of synthetic caffeine are different than the ratios found in caffeine from a natural source. Five out of eleven commercial products in this study were shown to contain synthetic caffeine.
Although it is up to the supplier to guarantee authenticity of their caffeine-based products, it would be prudent for the customer to question it, especially when the price is more consistent with a natural/synthetic mixture.
references furnished upon request
By Ginny Bank
Vice President--R & D/Technical Services
About the author:
Ginny Bank is vice president, R & D/Technical Services, at RFI Ingredients, Blauvelt, NY, a supplier of innovative natural ingredients for the dietary supplement and functional food industries. She can be reached at 720-304-7335; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.