Natural & Synthetic Caffeine

understanding the difference

Everyday, millions of people take part in a beloved daily ritual. For some, it’s starting the morning with a fresh cup of coffee, for others it’s a steamy gourd of Yerba Mate. What they have in common is something that’s made them the most popular drinks on the planet—caffeine. To many consumers, caffeine is caffeine, but to a growing number of people, the difference between synthetic and naturally derived sources is an important distinction. For these drinkers, taking a closer look into the ways caffeine-containing products are made tells an important story about how they affect our bodies.

Today there’s no shortage of new research on the positive benefits of naturally caffeinated drinks. In men, coffee has been shown to lower the risk of prostate cancer and in women, lower the effects of depression. Similarly, the leaves of the tea plant have been found to contain potent, naturally occurring antioxidants, which are powerful agents in the prevention of disorders such as Alzheimer’s. But these and other benefits are associated with caffeine sources harvested from natural plants. What about the synthetic caffeine found in sodas, popular energy drinks, and sweets? What sort of effects do they have on our bodies?

To understand how synthetic caffeine interacts with the body, it’s important to know how it’s made. The process takes place in a lab or a factory and involves the chemical synthesis of urea, which is exposed to a variety of harsh chemicals such as methyl chloride and ethyl acetate. When the process is complete the caffeine created is a very pure isolate that is highly concentrated. Caffeine made in this way is absorbed and processed quickly in the digestive system, which is why consuming products containing synthetic caffeine generally results in a very sharp increase in energy and the all-to-common “crash” reported by so many drinkers.

Natural caffeine on the other hand is made by unique, caffeine producing members of the plant kingdom. Currently, we know of around 60 species that have evolved this trait. When these plants are harvested for consumption, the caffeine present isn’t all that different from its synthetic counterpart. What makes it unique is the additional presence of plant-based vitamins and nutrients found alongside the caffeine. These companion compounds help balance out the caffeine’s effects. Additionally, natural forms of caffeine are far less concentrated than isolated synthetics. The result is a more balanced experience where users report a pleasant lift, sustained energy, and a gradual descent from the caffeine’s effects.

The way we see it, clean energy comes from healthy plants, which is why Hawaiian Ola is naturally caffeinated with Organic Yerba Mate and Green Tea. These plants have been used throughout Asia and Central America as healthy caffeine sources for many generations. We choose to source organic to ensure the plants we use are grown without any harmful pesticides, GMO’s, or non-organic fertilizers. Next time you’re out shopping for a healthy buzz, remember that not all caffeine sources are the same; synthetic and natural caffeine products can have very different effects on our bodies. If you have a preference and aren’t sure how to distinguish between the two, keep this in mind: if a product’s ingredients list includes the word “caffeine,” it’s synthetic—if you see the name of a caffeine producing plant such as Green Tea or Yerba Mate then it’s natural.


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Chris Whidden

Chris Whidden is a writer/student/brand manager who lives in Oahu, Hawaii where he works for Hawaiian Ola. When he’s not finding new ways to share Noni (Morinda Citrifolia) and grow the Ola ʻohana, Chris enjoys trail running, growing food, and internet cats. Chris writes about health, good food, and thoughtful living.

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2 Responses to Natural & Synthetic Caffeine

  1. Salman says:

    Hi is the caffeine in fizzy drinks like Pepsi coke etc ,artificial?

  2. Great question! Actually the caffeine in our drinks comes from Yerba Mate and Green Tea. They’re both sourced organically and are great plant based options for the pick-me-up we all sometimes need. :)


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