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Caffeine: Energy Source or Muscle Growth Inhibitor?

Friday, January 22, 2016

Caffeine: Energy Source or Muscle Growth Inhibitor?

By Katie Merritt ('16)

Coca-cola, sweet tea, chocolate milk and coffee. What do these popular beverages have in common? According to research conducted by Brian Gottwalt, Senior Biology major, caffeine found in these drinks could contribute to the slowing of muscle growth in children and adolescents.

Gottwalt’s Honors Thesis Project involves growing human muscle cells, injecting them with caffeine and observing the cells’ metabolic responses.  Specifically, Gottwalt observes how caffeine affects how fast the cell processes energy.  The caffeine could either spur muscle metabolism or send it into atrophy.  Muscle metabolism directly affects muscle growth, which in turn affects a muscle’s ability to function.

All muscle cells tested are of adolescent age to best mimic the body’s natural muscle growth process. Until around the age of 15, human muscle cells are plastic- growing and building steadily. The muscle “foundation” is laid for the rest of your life.  After this age, new muscle cells are not created, but instead enlarged, stretched or shrunk.  Gottwalt’s research specifically targets adolescent age and below to determine caffeine’s effect on a growing muscular system.

“If we find caffeine hurts muscle cells as a child, it will adversely affect muscle composition for the rest of life,” Gottwalt explained.

Gottwalt is thrilled to leave his legacy on scientific research.  With this motivation, he spends an average of fifteen hours in the laboratory a week, making the lab a sort of second-home for him. He expects to continue this trend until February 2016, when the project is due to finish. He ultimately hopes to be published in a food and drug journal to share his findings with scholars and families alike.  If Gottwalt’s findings support caffeine’s harmful effect on muscle growth, this information could guide parents in nutritional decisions for their children.

‘What we feed kids now has the potential to damage their quality of life down the road. No parent wants that for their children, yet we allow kids to drink soda loaded with caffeine without hesitation,” Gottwalt said.

Gottwalt expects to continue this passion and hard work ethic into medical school next fall, eventually serving his community as an orthopedic surgeon.  Gottwalt, a former runner and soccer player, aspires to give back to the athletic community by repairing athletes’ major injuries. Right now, his education and research is building the skills and experience needed to succeed in such a demanding field.

“So far, the initiative I’ve taken on this project has given me ownership of my education and taught me I can go as far as I push myself.”