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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Coffee is a Recreational Drug

Scientists classify coffee as a recreational drug. The reason lies in coffee's ability to inhibit monoamine oxidase (MAO), a brain enzyme that degrades neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. Dopamine is a feel-good brain chemical. You experience its effect when you get a natural high after exercising. But the body regulates dopamine production and destroys it with MAO. In other words, MAO breaks down dopamine so that you no longer feel terrific. As we age the body overproduces MAO and people become sluggish, lose motivation, and experience depression — all a result of reduced dopamine levels. Well, it turns out that coffee (regular as well as decaffeinated) contains a good deal of "norharman and harman, two heterocyclic beta-carboline alkaloids" that inhibit MAO.1 These alkaloids are called MAO inhibitors because they stop MAO from destroying dopamine. They effectively prevent MAO from depleting dopamine levels in the brain, contributing to the buildup of dopamine and to a glowing feeling. The MAO inhibitors in coffee apparently also confer substantial neuroprotective effects. Studies show that coffee drinkers have a significantly lower incidence of Parkinson's disease.2

Cigarette smoke also acts as an MAO inhibitor, which is one reason people feel good after smoking. Scientists concluded, regarding MAO inhibitors, that "coffee is the most important exogenous source of these alkaloids in addition to cigarette smoking."3

  1. "Identification and occurrence of the bioactive beta-carbolines norharman and harman in coffee brews." Herraiz T. 2002. Food Addit Contam. Aug; 19(8):748-54. (Accessed Apr 8, 2009.)(Emphasis supoplied).
  2. "Coffee as an Anti-Parkinsonian Agent: A Case Report." 2008. Joseph Alisky. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. October, 14(8): 897-897. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0286. (Accessed Apr. 8, 2009.)
  3. "Human monoamine oxidase enzyme inhibition by coffee and beta-carbolines norharman and harman isolated from coffee." 2006. Herraiz T, Chaparro C. Life Sci. Jan 18;78(8):795-802. (Accessed Apr. 8, 2009.)

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