Ever wonder what happens to your brain on caffeine?
The majority of Americans are hopelessly dependent on their coffee in the morning (and proud of it, thanks) but have you ever questioned what happens after you take those first sips of Joe? Neuroscience Ph.D. candidate Shannon Odell took a look into exactly what happens to your brain on caffeine.
"Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline purine, a methylxanthine alkaloid, to be precise, which is naturally found in over 60 plants," she explains. Originally discovered in Africa, caffeine has been enjoyed through food like coffee, tea, and cocoa for thousands of years. And when we say the majority of Americans are addicted to their daily caffeine dose, we mean it. Caffeine is considered the most consumed psychoactive drug with about 87% of the United States fueling up on the daily, including children.
Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that falls under the same category of other psychostimulants like:
You can rest assured, though — caffeine is a mild stimulant, so it's not considered a drug of abuse like some of its friends. After all, you don't have a coffee problem. You just have a problem without it.
So what happens to your brain as you drink coffee? For starters, caffeine begins to bind itself to the adenosine receptors in your brain. Once caffeine has bound to these receptors, it acts as a bouncer and does not allow adenosine (AKA what usually signals sleepiness) in. While caffeine blocks the door for adenosine receptors, it triggers an arousal reflect allowing you to stay awake and alert.
The effects don't stop in your brain, but start to have an impact throughout your whole body. As you continue to consume more caffeine, you'll feel jittery and have an increased heart rate. The caffeine in your coffee will block the breakdown of certain messengers throughout your body, including the pathway that signals a fight or flight response. So, go ahead and blame that one time you lashed out at your boss on all that coffee you consumed that day. This same response raises your heart rate and increases blood pressure to allow more oxygen to your brain.
But does the rise of adrenaline coffee causes actually improve brain power and cognitive function? Odell is sad to say that studies linking caffeine to cognitive performance and skill performance are well, inconclusive. There are just as many studies that say caffeine can improve memory retention and reaction time as there are studies that say the opposite.
She does, however, state, "Scientists believe that chronic caffeine use may have a number of neuroprotective properties." Lifetime coffee consumption has been linked to:
- Protecting against the signs of aging
- Improved memory function and attention in older women
- Reduced risk of developing Parkinson's and Alzheimer's
If you're concerned if coffee is good for you, remember this: caffeine is just like you and me, there's some good in us and some bad. So, enjoy your daily dose.