Theophylline: The Anti-Asthma Molecule in Your Tea

Tea is a beverage cherished and consumed globally for its delightful flavors and soothing effects. But did you know that tea also contains a potent compound known as theophylline? This alkaloid, also found in coffee and guarana seeds, is primarily used as an anti-asthma drug. However, its presence in tea is not as concentrated as one might think.

Theophylline in Tea: A Closer Look

Theophylline's concentration in tea is incredibly variable. It depends on the type of tea, its variety, and the duration of the infusion. On average, black tea is rich in caffeine, also known as theine (2.5-5.5% on dry weight), while theophylline is present in limited concentrations (0.002-0.013%).

Contrary to popular belief, tea provides a good dose of caffeine (around 20 mg per 100 ml), but its theophylline content is somewhat reduced. In fact, a 150 ml cup of very strong black tea only contains around 1 mg of theophylline. This concentration decreases even further in infusions prepared with leaves of the more delicate varieties. The concentrations of these two alkaloids increase the longer the leaves are kept in the infusion.

Theophylline molecule

Theophylline's Properties

Theophylline has a diuretic effect and a relaxing action on smooth muscles, especially those of the bronchi. Its diuretic action is utilized in herbal teas and draining dietary products. The bronchodilator, on the other hand, is used in the pharmaceutical sector.

Theophylline's effects are beneficial for various types of respiratory problems, such as asthma and bronchitis. It increases the contractility of the diaphragm and other respiratory muscles, providing relief for those with respiratory issues.

Theophylline and Asthma

Theophylline's therapeutic activity is beneficial for those suffering from respiratory problems, but the concentration found in tea is insufficient to have therapeutic value. It's important to note that theophylline's concentration in tea is about 100-1000 times lower than the 120-240 mg, 3-4 times a day, used in anti-asthma therapy in adults.

Theophylline Derivatives

Theophylline derivatives are used in the treatment of bronchial asthma. Aminophylline, resulting from the combination of theophylline with ethylenediamine, is the most well-known and most used. It works by blocking phosphodiesterases, increasing the release of catecholamines, inhibiting adenosine receptors, and regulating cells with pro-inflammatory activity.

Aminophylline is a second or third choice anti-asthmatic, used only when other drugs are not effective. High doses can induce nausea, vomiting, agitation, tachycardia, abdominal pain, cephalgia, muscle tremors, and arrhythmia.

Pharmacokinetic Properties of Theophylline

Chemically, Theophylline is a methylxanthine, very similar to caffeine. When administered orally, it is rapidly absorbed, and the plasma peak is observed within one or two hours. Catabolism occurs at the liver level, producing more or less active derivatives, which are then eliminated by the kidney.


Theophylline, although present in small amounts in tea, has significant effects on our body, particularly in the treatment of asthma and bronchitis. Therefore, while enjoying your cup of tea, remember that it's not just a soothing beverage, but also a source of a potent compound that has a significant impact on human health. However, it's important to remember that the concentration of theophylline in tea is not sufficient to have a therapeutic effect.

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