How Caffeine Interacts With The Brain
Edited and Published by Wellness Monster Louise
Caffeine Is a Big Part Of Life!
Some people can be hazardous to their own health. Many people drink gallons of caffeinated drinks during the day to help stay awake and then take other measures to help fall asleep at night. For many people this cycle repeats every day. Most people are guilty of at least a little caffeine consumption. So what is caffeine, anyway? First, let’s figure out why we crave it to begin with!
Adenosine: Caffeine’s Arch Enemy
Adenosine is a natural chemical neurotransmitter that is created when one does physical work and can rise during metabolic distress, trauma, physical exercise, etc. As more adensine is built up in the body, the more fatigued or sleepy one feels. After a good night’s sleep, the levels should go down significantly and you should feel refreshed and ready to go. However, that’s in the perfect world, and unfortunately most of us don’t live there.
Caffeine to the Rescue
Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system and is the world’s most-used and popular consumed psychoactive drug — about 85% of Americans consume some form of caffeine every day. Breaking things down further and to clarify: a psychoactive drug is a chemical that changes one’s brains function by altering perception, mood, consciousness and behavior (Wikipedia: Psychoactive Drug). Caffeine reduces the onslaught of drowsiness by blocking adenosine and the chemical is also known for stimulating portions of the autonomic nervous system.
Where One Finds Caffeine
Found in seeds, nuts and leaves, many of which are located in Africa, East Asia and South America, caffeine is a white crystalline purine that is very bitter to ingest on its own. Nature uses caffeine as a protective measure against predatory insects, but humans consume it prevents sleepiness and improve performance. The caffeine is extracted when these plants are steeped in water in what is known as infusion. Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, colas, non-cola sodas like Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper, chocolate, ice cream, weight loss pills, pain relievers, energy water beverages (like Vitamin Water), alcoholic energy drinks, breath fresheners and even decaf coffee (in small quantities) (Health.com).
The Benefits of Caffeine
Besides being used as a retardant against drowsiness, caffeine has also been show to be effective in improving reaction time, concentration and motor coordination. How much is needed to do so varies from person to person. It has also been effective in improving breathing disorders in infants known as bronchopulmonary dysplasia and appears to be effective in protection of Parkinson’s disease. Some doctors believe that caffeine can help reduce depression and can help lower suicide risk.
One develops sensitization (when the effects occur more often with use) and the effects are usually positive, such as an increased alertness and focus. Tolerance to caffeine varies from person to person. Those who consume between 750 and 1200 milligrams a day often develop a complete tolerance to caffeine and are able to fall asleep at night with no trouble at all. On the other side the scale, those who consume around 1oo milligrams a day (about one or two cups or coffee and/or two three cans of soda) will sometimes find sleep disruption and other in tolerances.
Going to the Dark Side
Caffeine can form a mild sort of drug dependence on users as well. When stopped for a period, former caffeine users will often experience headaches, irritability and yes, drowsiness. For others, consuming caffeine will increase anxiety, become jittery, insomnia, an increased sleep latency and coordination problems. Those with anxiety issues should avoid or limit caffeine as it can increase the onslaught of panic disorders.
As with most things in life, caffeine is considered safe and useful in moderation. A cup of coffee can contain anywhere from 80-175 milligrams of caffeine depending on what type of coffee bean is used and how they are processed. For instance, drip coffee will contain less and espresso beverages will have more. Anything over 10 grams of caffeine is considered toxic, but it would take between 50 and 100 cups of coffee to reach these levels. However, caffeine in powdered form, used as a dietary supplement, can be toxic with much smaller amounts (also known as synthetic caffeine or caffeine anhydrous).
Stopping the use of all caffeine may not be the best solution either as withdrawal symptoms of caffeine dependence include fatigue, headache, irritability, depressed mood, reduced contentedness, inability to concentrate, drowsiness, stomach pain and joint pain.
Though many doctors agree that stopping the use of caffeine will cause withdrawal symptoms, they are often not as bad as previously thought. In one self-reported participant study, nearly 11 percent of the respondents said that withdrawal symptoms occurred; but interestingly, most of the lab tests have shown that those who complained of the withdrawal symptoms did not actually have any (Wikipedia: Caffeine). Still, it is common knowledge outside of this study that greater caffeine consumption (specifically more than the recommended daily dose) can most certainly lead to unfavorable withdrawal symptoms and other health complications.
If you are concerned at all with your caffeine use or lack thereof, be sure to bring up the issue with your doctor for their recommendations. And remember, there are always natural alternatives to synthetic caffeine anhydrous! Many natural plants can metabolize in the body as natural caffeine and energy. To learn a little more about natural forms of energy, check out our List of Natural Remedies for Fatigue.
Wikipedia: Psychoactive Drug [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychoactive_drug]
Wikipedia: Caffeine [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caffeine]
Wikipedia: Adenosine [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adenosine]
Caffeine 3d Model [By Jynto (more from this user) – Own work.Crystallographic data from P. Derollez, N. T. Correia, F. Danède, F. Capet, F. Affouard, J. Lefebvre and M. Descamps. “Ab initio structure determination of the high-temperature phase of anhydrous caffeine by X-ray powder diffraction”. Acta Cryst. (2005). B61, 329-334. DOI:10.1107/S010876810500546XThis image was created with Discovery Studio Visualizer., CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=62265271]