Coffee is likely the most popular beverage in the world, 2nd only to tea, and of course, plain water. Both coffee and tea are made in a similar fashion, by saturating either ground coffee beans, or soaking leaves, bark, or herbs in piping hot water. Both drinks have been used for at least as long as man has recorded history (likely longer than that) and both drinks, especially coffee, enjoy their extreme popularity primarily because of their rich caffeine content. Although there are many natural sources of caffeine, coffee is by far the most popular, and many forms of tea are also rich in caffeine. Caffeine has been consumed for centuries (primarily in the form of coffee or teas) for its effects as a stimulant, to help increase alertness and stave off mental fatigue.
“For many of us, a good strong shot of caffeine may be exactly what the good ol’ neighborhood barista would suggest to help kick start our day!”
YOUR BRAIN ON CAFFEINE…
Caffeine works in the brain by preventing the chemical messenger, adenosine, from doing its job as the “braking system” for neural activity in the brain. Adenosine is the neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger, in your brain that triggers relaxation, slows brain and cellular activity, and promotes sleep.
Caffeine mimics adenosine. Acting as an adenosine-receptor antagonist, caffeine binds to the adenosine receptors located in the brain and other organs of the body, which temporarily “blocks” adenosine from being able to do its job, which is to signal the quieting of activity of the brain and body’s cells. This keeps the brain and body temporarily “revved up,” increasing mental alertness and excitability for a short time.
Additionally, caffeine prolongs the effects of the body’s excitatory hormones, epinephrine and norepinephine (the “adrenaline” hormones) contributing its stimulatory effect on the brain and other body cells. Caffeine also exerts an effect on the brain’s powerful chemical messengers, dopamine and serotonin, the natural “feel good” chemicals in the brain. In this way, caffeine temporarily imparts a mild mood-enhancing effect (or “lift”) in many individuals.
WHAT GOES UP…
Moderate caffeine use (up to 400mg/day) is not associated with adverse effects in otherwise healthy adults. Most experts agree that children under 12 should avoid regular caffeine usage, due to effect of this drug on developing systems in the young and growing body; but for healthy adults, caffeine has many documented benefits as mentioned above. Being relatively benign in otherwise healthy adults, it’s okay to feel comfortable reaching for that morning Joe to get your day jump-started! Realize, though, that nothing comes free: what goes up must come down, as the saying goes.
Regular use of large amounts of coffee (generally speaking, greater than 400-600mg per day) may cause sleeplessness or jitters. And, regular use will likely lead to desensitization to the stimulatory effect or tolerance of caffeine. Users often find that the benefits experienced by consuming 1 cup of coffee soon requires 2 cups of coffee. Caffeine may also contribute to increased feelings of anxiety. Caffeine is reported by some users to cause stomach irritation. Although there is little evidence that caffeine in modest doses has a negative impact on the cardiovascular system, caffeine will interact with other drugs or substances such as asthma or allergy medications, or some blood pressure medications.
THE BOTTOM LINE?
Caffeine is a potent, naturally-occurring performance boosting agent that has been used safely for centuries as an aid to ward off sleepiness, enhance mental and physical output, and generally help us humans perform and feel better. Used judiciously, it can be just what the barista ordered not only to keep you in the game, but also to keep you playing hard. So, use common sense, but reach for that cup of Joe (or two), and enjoy. Just don’t drink it too close to bedtime!