Caffeine free? Is it really?

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Caffeine - everyone has heard of it, most people consume it whilst some are actively trying to reduce it. But what are the alternatives and why might switching to caffeine free be a positive health choice?

Caffeine is most commonly associated with coffee, however it is also in many other products such as energy drinks, chocolate and tea. This makes caffeine one of the most frequently ingested psychoactive substances (see references 1, 2). Many people who regularly consume caffeine have become increasingly interested in the effects caffeine may have on health (3-6). A caffeine boost may seem helpful in a morning to increase alertness or maybe even for an afternoon pick-me up. However, for people who want to be able to enjoy a cup of tea at later times in the day, without suffering the consequences of caffeine such as disturbed sleep, they are in need of some caffeine free alternatives (7, 8).

For tea drinkers, many people explore decaffeinated tea options. Here, leaves from the traditional tea plant Camellia sinensis, have undergone processing to remove the caffeine that is otherwise naturally present. However, a decaffeinated tea still contains caffeine. This may be just at a much lower percentage such as around 2mg per cup compared to 30-50mg in caffeinated tea. So any caffeine-sensitive consumers may still find that they could still suffer from caffeine related effects and may infact benefit from natural options which are completely caffeine free.

Naturally caffeine free herbal teas have the huge benefit of containing no caffeine at all, having not undergone any processing to artificially remove substances. They have enhanced positive health benefits, whilst further being equally as delicious as caffeine-containing classics. One example is the rooibos tea which is naturally sweet and aromatic, grown in the Western Cape Cederberg Mountain region of South Africa as the Aspalathus linearis shrub/plant. Rooibos is mainly sold in a fermented form which gives a reddish/brown colouring to the rooibos leaves, but can be bought in the unfermented green form which is even higher in antioxidant levels. Furthermore, rooibos is historically known in South Africa as the ‘long-life tea’ due to its beneficial health effects and there have been studies suggesting huge health benefits of rooibos tea with a recent study showing that rooibos was able to have a beneficial effect on bone health (9, 10). Rooibos also is low in tannins, has been associated with chemoprotective potential, modulated immune effect as well as anti-allergenic properties (11). Free-radicals have been shown to damage DNA and the presence of antioxidants such as the high levels of polyphenols found in rooibos tea have been shown to collect up these free-radicals and therefore prevent them from potentially causing DNA damage (12, 13).

Another caffeine free tea is Honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia) – again grown in South Africa. It is a herbal tea, low in tannins, and has also been shown to have numerous health benefits - particularly antimicrobial and antimutagenic activity as well as a good source of natural phytochemical antioxidants (14, 15). Interestingly, the honeybush plant is also used to make herbal infusions which can be used for restorative properties such as the soothing of coughs (16).

Given the outstanding health benefits of rooibos and honeybush teas it is very appealing for people to try to incorporate these teas into their daily routines, especially when trying to avoid caffeine later in the day. With more and more blends of these teas becoming available here at WILDBOS there will definitely be a blend to suit everyone and rival those caffeine-filled traditional alternatives!

References

1. Fredholm BB, Bättig K, Holmén J, Nehlig A, Zvartau EE. Actions of caffeine in the brain with special reference to factors that contribute to its widespread use. Pharmacol Rev. 1999;51(1):83-133.

2. Ferré S. Mechanisms of the psychostimulant effects of caffeine: implications for substance use disorders. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2016;233(10):1963-79.

3. Reyes CM, Cornelis MC. Caffeine in the Diet: Country-Level Consumption and Guidelines. Nutrients. 2018;10(11).

4. Nawrot P, Jordan S, Eastwood J, Rotstein J, Hugenholtz A, Feeley M. Effects of caffeine on human health. Food Addit Contam. 2003;20(1):1-30.

5. Wikoff D, Welsh BT, Henderson R, Brorby GP, Britt J, Myers E, et al. Systematic review of the potential adverse effects of caffeine consumption in healthy adults, pregnant women, adolescents, and children. Food Chem Toxicol. 2017;109(Pt 1):585-648.

6. Peck JD, Leviton A, Cowan LD. A review of the epidemiologic evidence concerning the reproductive health effects of caffeine consumption: a 2000-2009 update. Food Chem Toxicol. 2010;48(10):2549-76.

7. Lin FJ, Pierce MM, Sehgal A, Wu T, Skipper DC, Chabba R. Effect of taurine and caffeine on sleep-wake activity in Drosophila melanogaster. Nat Sci Sleep. 2010;2:221-31.

8. Panagiotou M, Meijer M, Meijer JH, Deboer T. Effects of chronic caffeine consumption on sleep and the sleep electroencephalogram in mice. J Psychopharmacol. 2019;33(1):122-31.

9. Moosa S, Kasonga AE, Deepak V, Marais S, Magoshi IB, Bester MJ, et al. Rooibos tea extracts inhibit osteoclast formation and activity through the attenuation of NF-κB activity in RAW264.7 murine macrophages. Food Funct. 2018;9(6):3301-12.

10. Dini I. 1 - An Overview of Functional Beverages. In: Grumezescu AM, Holban AM, editors. Functional and Medicinal Beverages: Academic Press; 2019. p. 1-40.

11. Bricher JL. Chapter 1 - Ensuring Global Food Safety—A Public Health Priority and a Global Responsibility. In: Boisrobert CE, Stjepanovic A, Oh S, Lelieveld HLM, editors. Ensuring Global Food Safety. San Diego: Academic Press; 2010. p. 1-4.

12. McKay DL, Blumberg JB. A review of the bioactivity of South African herbal teas: rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia). Phytother Res. 2007;21(1):1-16.

13. Damiani E, Carloni P, Rocchetti G, Senizza B, Tiano L, Joubert E, et al. Impact of Cold versus Hot Brewing on the Phenolic Profile and Antioxidant Capacity of Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) Herbal Tea. Antioxidants (Basel). 2019;8(10).

14. Dube P, Meyer S, Marnewick JL. Antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of different solvent extracts from fermented and green honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia) plant material. South African Journal of Botany. 2017;110:184-93.

15. Kokotkiewicz A, Luczkiewicz M. Honeybush (Cyclopia sp.) - a rich source of compounds with high antimutagenic properties. Fitoterapia. 2009;80(1):3-11.

16. Kamara BI, Brandt EV, Ferreira D, Joubert E. Polyphenols from Honeybush tea (Cyclopia intermedia). J Agric Food Chem. 2003;51(13):3874-9.

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