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Natural vs. Synthetic Caffeine

Natural vs. Synthetic Caffeine

What’s the difference between natural caffeine and synthetic caffeine? Why does it matter?

Caffeine is the most commonly consumed drug in the world. It's an ingredient found in drinks such as coffee, tea, energy drinks, and soft drinks like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, etc. There are both natural, plant-based sources of caffeine, and synthetically produced sources of caffeine.

Although both natural and synthetic caffeine are practically identical on a chemical level, let’s learn more about them and how your body reacts differently to each one.

Natural Caffeine

Caffeine was first found in naturally occurring plants such as guarana, cacao, yerba mate, and berries. Today, it can be found in over 60 various types of plants.

Natural caffeine can be found as a standalone supplement; however, it is more commonly used in many different supplement profiles from fat-burners, to pre-workouts, to straight-up energy products.

Essentially, natural caffeine provides a more sustainable and cleaner boost of energy in comparison to synthetic caffeine, and it also allows for heightened focus and cognition. If you’ve ever used different forms of caffeine, you may have noticed and experienced a quick jolt of energy but then an abrupt crash that soon follows. 

Unlike synthetic caffeine, natural caffeine generally does not have any side effects such as insomnia, nervousness, and anxiety, to name a few. It is because of the gradual release of natural caffeine into your system that many of the side effects associated with synthetic caffeine are nonexistent. There is no sudden release that can cause jitters or uneasiness.

Synthetic Caffeine

Synthetic caffeine is widely used in soft drinks and energy drinks. Synthetic caffeine is quickly absorbed in your system and gives you a sudden boost of energy, which is much faster than natural caffeine. Interestingly enough, and a little history lesson for you, synthetic caffeine was first discovered by the Nazis during World War II. With increasing demand, synthetic caffeine started becoming the norm.

Additionally, synthetic caffeine (such as caffeine anhydrous) is a very inexpensive ingredient to produce. Natural caffeine is something that needs to be sourced, and because of this, synthetic caffeine has become the most widely used form of caffeine. Big companies such as Coca-Cola are highly dependent on synthetic caffeine for their products. Unfortunately, synthetic caffeine has some drawbacks and side effects that could become quite harmful to your body.

Because synthetic caffeine is absorbed into your body much faster than natural caffeine, it provides a quick spike of energy that many people enjoy but then an equivalent crash as if you hit a wall going 100mph. Although synthetic caffeine and natural caffeine are almost non-distinguishable on a molecular level, the method by which synthetic caffeine is made can trigger significant health concerns, which you need to take into consideration before you decide if you want to supplement with it or not.

How Synthetic Caffeine Is Made

Synthetic caffeine undergoes numerous steps to be converted from its initial form, which is ammonia. It is usually exposed to harsh chemicals during the conversion, such as ethyl acetate (used in glues, perfumes, and nail polish remover), methylene chloride (a potential carcinogen), and carbon dioxide.

In addition, synthetic caffeine has somewhat of a “glowing” factor. This is removed by cleaning the caffeine with acetic acid, sodium nitrate, chloroform, and sodium bicarbonate. The end result of synthetic caffeine is a compound comprising of chloroacetic acid and urea.

If any of the above words sound scary then you can be certain that they are.

Other Side Effects

Synthetic caffeine is made to give you the “lift” you crave faster than natural caffeine. However, the adverse side is that you often experience a caffeine “crash” that is far more significant. The answer to this question is to continue to intake more and more caffeine to offset the low – dropping into a false sense of security that the caffeine is keeping you going. However, let’s remember that perhaps the caffeine we are consuming contributes to the problem.

Natural Caffeine provides a far slower release of energy. In addition, many naturally occurring vitamins are found in natural caffeine plants that minimize the crash that the synthetic form can feel. Around 60 different plants are natural sources – coffee and tea being the ones predominantly consumed in the world today. Coupled with caffeine’s energy release, natural sources are also rich in antioxidants such as cafestol, trigonelline, chlorogenic acid, melanoidins and quinine. As such, there is a whole host of scientific research into the health benefits of natural caffeine, and that caffeine itself may reduce cavities, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, liver cancer, gall stones, cirrhosis of the liver, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and a variety of heart diseases.

Knowing The Difference

It’s beneficial to understand what you are reading on many supplement labels out there. If you see the word “caffeine” on the ingredient list of a product, it is very like that it is synthetic caffeine (caffeine anhydrous).

If it is a natural source, you will see the actual name of the plant products used, such as green tea extract, green coffee beans, or guarana, to name a few.


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