Coffee is seen as liquid gold in some parts of the world. It is high-performance brain fuel that most of the western world relies on to get through the day. The active ingredient in coffee that makes it so valuable? Caffeine. 80% of the US population consume caffeine every day. It is a psychoactive “drug” with energy inducing properties and is the most used drug worldwide… But what are the actual effects of caffeine on your brain?
Chemically, caffeine is similar to adenosine. Adenosine is the chemical responsible for making us feel tired. When we drink coffee, the caffeine binds to our brain’s adenosine receptors. With the receptors already bound to the caffeine, the caffeine prevents the adenosine from binding too. This helps us to stave off fatigue and tiredness as the receptors cannot bind to adenosine. This is why you feel more alert after a cup of coffee, as the caffeine prevents adenosine from taking effect.
When caffeine blocks adenosine, chemicals that stimulate the body and mind such as dopamine, have more of an effect. Studies show that drinking coffee can lead to increased productivity, alertness, attention and concentration. Alongside dopamine, which is the same chemical released when we fall in love, caffeine also leads to increased serotonin. Serotonin is the chemical that makes us happy. It is strong enough to effect against depression, therefore meaning a morning coffee can actually make you a happier person.
As you drink your coffee, caffeine can help to build up your adrenaline supply, meaning increased heart rate and improved blood flow. This is why your body feels more alert after drinking it. However, the dopamine effect that caffeine has on your body is also what leads to caffeine addiction. Your body becomes addicted to the feeling of increased energy, and the buzz from the dopamine. Keep that in mind next time you reach for your third cup. The more coffee you drink, the more you need to get the same buzz next time.
As well as developing a larger tolerance to the effects of caffeine, there are negative effects of drinking too much coffee. Scientists recommend that adults should consume no more than 400mg of caffeine a day. That’s the same as about 4 cups of coffee. Once you surpass this recommended caffeine intake, you may start to feel unwell. Dehydration, headaches, palpitations, nervousness and dizziness can all occur.
Once you start consuming too much caffeine every day, your body can also start to experience caffeine withdrawals. This, like any withdrawal, can be really unpleasant. Caffeine deprivation headaches, fatigue, irritability and nausea can all happen. The main thing to remember about coffee is that, like everything else, it is best consumed in moderation. We recommend sticking to the daily intake of 4 cups or less. If you start to feel fatigued, why not switch to sparkling water? Dehydration is one of the main causes of tiredness. Consequently, by properly hydrating, you ensure you’re not just dehydrated and looking for a quick caffeine fix.