Caffeine is a substance that occurs naturally in the leaves, beans and fruit of some plants, for example coffee beans, tea leaves, kola nuts, cocoa beans and guarana berries, all of which are consumed in various forms by humans. It is also a psychoactive stimulant drug, meaning it affects the central nervous system, alters brain function and can improve mental and physical performance. Chemically, it is classified as a xanthine alkaloid, and in its pure form, it looks like a white, crystalline powder. Powdered caffeine is caffeine in this pure form, and as a supplement it is most commonly used to increase mental alertness and counteract fatigue. At certain doses, caffeine in any form can be addictive, and in large doses it can cause serious side effects, such as cramping, heart palpitations and even death.
Like other caffeine supplements such as caffeine capsules and caffeine pills, powdered caffeine can either be natural or synthetic, depending on whether it is derived from natural sources or manufactured in a laboratory. Natural and synthetic caffeine have identical chemical structures. The synthetic variety is the one most commonly used for supplements.
Powdered caffeine is often used to increase a person's energy level, improve concentration and enhance wakefulness. Other uses include taking it as a diuretic and to lose weight. Athletes sometimes use the substance to improve performance, and research shows it can be helpful for athletes in endurance sports like cycling, long-distance running and soccer. While taking powdered caffeine is legal in most sports, it should be noted that symptoms like dehydration, tightness and cramping are possible side effects of using it as a performance enhancer.
Caffeine affects the central nervous system and the body in several ways: speeding up metabolism, increasing blood circulation and elevating blood sugar levels. It also boosts adrenaline levels and inhibits a biochemical substance called adenosine, leading to increased alertness but also possible sleep problems. Caffeine also increases the body's dopamine production, giving the substance both its euphoric and addictive properties.
Manufacturers commonly recommend a daily dose of 280 mg, equivalent to about 18 ounces (510 ml) of brewed coffee. It is important not to exceed the recommended dosage, because caffeine in this form is a very potent substance. Excessive intake can cause twitching, irritability, heart palpitations, vomiting and even death. Pregnant women and people with high blood pressure should limit their intake of caffeine in any form and avoid powdered caffeine completely, because of the risk of side effects and overdose.