The 3 Week Diet

What Does Caffeine Do To Us?

If you’re thinking of taking up medicine or pharmacology then you probably have a healthy interest in chemistry and its effects on human biology. It’s amazing to think that we know enough about the body to actually understand and alter its chemistry, and it’s a satisfying feeling learning all these interactions yourself.

But even before you get your PhD, there’s plenty of opportunity to look at the way things affect the body more closely. In fact many of us ‘self medicate’ in several ways on a daily basis and use a number of drugs without ever really thinking about what they do or how they’re affecting us on a more fundamental level.

The most obvious example? Caffeine. Most of us will use it every single day, but how many of us really understand the chemistry of it or how it impacts on our bodies? Read on and we’ll take a look at what caffeine really does to us from a biological standpoint.

Main Affects

Caffeine of course is a stimulant which is due to the fact that it increases the production of adrenaline resulting in a higher heartrate and more alertness. This is what makes some people ‘jittery’, though it could also explain the positive impact that caffeine has on memory. Many theories suggest that memory is improved when we’re in a dangerous situation as the brain wants to record more information for use in future. This is possibly why we have ‘flashbulb’ memories (where we remember certain events in precise detail) and why time seems to move slower when we’re leaping to catch something or dodge something. This also makes caffeine somewhat useful for weightloss.

At the same time, caffeine can also impact on our production of dopamine and serotonin, giving us an overall sense of wellbeing and positivity (which also helps with energy). This is slightly mitigated however by the fact that caffeine also increases our production of cortisol – the stress hormone that can make us gain weight as a side effect. If you feel ‘anxious’ after too much caffeine, then cortisol explains why.

Adenosine

More recently researchers have discovered that caffeine also reduce our ‘uptake’ of adenosine. This is a protein that builds up during the day and leaves us feeling tired and lethargic. But because caffeine is shaped similarly, it is able to ‘plug’ the receptors that normally use it, preventing us from feeling its effects and keeping us ‘sharper’.

Our bodies though will adapt to this to a degree, and there has been some speculation that using caffeine over prolonged periods could cause us to increase more adenosine to compensate. This is also what might lead to withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, along with the vasodilation/vasoconstriction that causes the blood vessels in the brain to change shape (there is some debate over which one caffeine is, but either way it could potentially cause headaches). This is actually the main reason that most people wake up after surgery with a headache – they’ve gone too long without caffeine.

That said though, another long term effect of caffeine seems to be reduced chance of dementia and other brain illnesses, making it a useful health aid potentially.

The author is an FDA expert who often writes for Georgetown University, a research institution studying the relation between statins and rhabdomyolysis.

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Category: Healthy Drinks

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