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Caffeine may aid respiration.

Caffeine may aid respiration

Few people, realize as they sip their regular brew, that they are affording significant benefits to their continuing intake of life-essential oxygen from the atmosphere. These benefits reside in three aspects of the effect of caffeine on the phenomenon we call breathing:

First, it has a stimulating effect on the respiratory centers in the brain;

Second: it relaxes the bronchioles, the tubes of the lungs, so they enlarge and can accommodate a large volume of air.

Third: it also relaxes the blood vessels in the lungs, increasing blood flow and absorption of oxygen.

Respiration is the most fundamental property of all living things. It is defined as the gaseous interchange between an organism and its environment. Its most obvious chemical feature in man is the absorption of oxygen and the equally important elimination of carbon dioxide ([CO.sub.2]). The oxygen combines with the blood hemoglobin in the lungs for delivery throughout the body to various tissue cells. Here it oxidizes carbon compounds in our food to [CO.sub.2], creating the energy required for various performances. The [CO.sub.2] produced then enters the blood-stream and is transported back to the lungs for elimination in the expired air.

The lungs have a total capacity of about a gallon of air, but each breath amounts to a little over a pint. This intake enriches the lungs with oxygen, and when we exhale an equal amount of air, it reduces the [CO.sub.2] concentration. Adults breathe about 15-17 times per minute unles stimulated by exercise, emotions, caffeine or other factors.

Control of breathing is rather complicated. Usually it is automatic or involuntary. There are voluntary components also, such as during speaking, swallowing, laughing, coughing, impulses, etc. Controls are located in the respiratory centers of the central nervous system. From there, messages are telegraphed down the spinal cord to the various muscles that determine breathing rate. Stimulation by caffeine increases both depth and rate of breathing.

Chemical control of breathing is mainly dependent on the [CO.sub.2] level in the blood. Response to this is so sensitive that an increase of 0.2% in the bloodstream will double the amount of air inhaled until the excess of [CO.sub.2] is eliminated. It is not the lack of oxygen but excess [CO.sub.2] that will cause this instant and powerful reaction.

One of the most common disorders of breathing is asthma, which is greatly relieved by the stimulating effects of caffeine and its relatives. This is a condition marked by recurrent attacks of painful and difficult breathing, with wheezing due to spasmodic narrowing of the air passages to the lungs. Caffeine expands these passages as well as increasing the breathing rate. Attacks vary from occasional periods of wheezing and slight pain to severe attacks that almost cause suffocation. An acute attack may last for days and could be fatal.

The cause of these bronchial spasms is unknown. It may be due to an allergy. The offending allergen may be suspended in the air as dust, pollen, smoke, animal hair or scales or even auto exhaust. More than half the cases in children are of this type. Chronic respiratory infections may result in asthma. These are usually caused by virus or bacteria, but no specific one has been implicated. Attacks may be associated with emotional factors, often unpredictable or there may be inherited traits.

The medication of choice for asthma is now Theophylline - a close relative of caffeine. Structurally, Theophylline has a double ring nucleus with two methyl groups attached. Caffeine has the identical double ring nucleus with three methyl groups attached. After every ingestion of a caffeine beverage, a good part of this agent is metabolized by the removal of a methyl group and theophylline enters the circulation from which it is excreted by the kidneys as such.

The physiological action of these two compounds are very similar, differing only in degree. Caffeine has slightly greater stimulating action in the brain so that it promotes deeper and more rapid breathing. Theophylline has somewhat better relaxing qualities so the bronchial tubes expand somewhat better. In mild cases or emergencies, either may be effective although physicians prefer the prescription type over commonly available caffeine.

Several dozen theophylline prescription types are marketed by some 30 different pharmaceutical companies. Tablets of the pure material vary in size from 100 to 450 milligrams, and also liquids and elixirs. Oddly, there are two products with 100 and 130 milligrams respectively, and other agents are available as over the counter medications.

A rare type of difficult breathing (Cheyne-Stokes) is characterized by rhythmic waxing and waning of respiration. The individual breathes deeply for a short time and then very slightly or stops breathing altogether. This is caused by diseases affecting the respiratory center. This is also treated by both medicants, with caffiene being superior to theophylline for this ailment.

Asthma is a serious disease and deaths from it are rising steadily. Some ten million Americans are affected and it strikes children disproportionally.

In treating younger asthmatic children with theophylline, there is great concern that its stimulation may cause behavior changes. Can it affect their mood? their memory? their ability to pay attention? It is now recognized that in often prescribed dosage, it can!

The larger questions are: How much do they affect behavior? Are these acceptable changes? Can the dosage be lowered to produce the beneficial respiratory effects without generating undesirable cerebral results?

Recent studies at the National Respiratory Center in Colorado indicate that theophylline, like caffeine has both desirable and undesirable action in children. They noted that it can improve a child's alertness but might cause some difficulty in physical activities.

In a behavior study last year, three groups of 8-16 year olds were followed for six months. The first group were asthmatics who took the medication. The second group of asthmatics received no medicine. The third group consisted of non-asthmatics with no theophylline doses.

In many of these tests there was no variation from group to group. In attention measuring tests, the medicated children scored appreciable improvement over the children in the other two groups. The same held true for memory tests.

On the other hand, parents of these children, who had been recording observations of their offsprings all along, reported somewhat different results. While the tests demonstrated improved attention and memory, parents reported increased impulsiveness during the six months tests.

Researchers deduced that "theophylline, like caffeine, could improve attention as well as produce nervous, jittery and disruptive behavior." Overall, the scientists concluded that for most children, the side effects are mild enough not to warrant concern; but for a few susceptible children, there may indeed be unacceptable side effects.

Regular coffee and tea represent a rational treatment for mild cases of asthma in both children and adults. Advantages are available in every home, convenience, and ability to regulate dosage by consuming portions of a cup to obtain minimum amounts to achieve relief. Hot or cold may have significant differences. More study is indicated.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Article Details
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Author:Lee, Samuel
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Article Type:column
Date:Nov 1, 1990
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