12 Days of Freshers

Your Body On: Caffeine

Feyintoluwa Ayanlaja

It’s the elixir of energy that keeps us awake through cumbersome mornings and tedious lectures. It’s a can of Red Bull or a double shot of espresso from the Portland Coffee Shop. It’s caffeine—the most widely used mind-altering drug in the world.

From the rare and prized Coffea Arabica only afforded by the extremely rich, to the freeze-dried instant crystals found in the kitchens of most, coffee has transcended from a once luxurious product to a daily necessity for 125 million people around the world. With reported highs of elevated concentration and lows of jitters and physical anxiety, caffeine is evidenced to be a powerful drug. So, starting from the brain then journeying all the way down to our physical behaviours, let’s take a look at your body on caffeine.

When caffeine is ingested and absorbed into the body, adenosine can no longer do its job and we feel more active and alert

Caffeine works directly against a tiny compound in the brains of most human beings called adenosine. This compound is responsible for promoting sleep after a long day and calming us down by directly interacting with the central nervous system. Adenosine plays an integral role in the maintenance of our essential bodily functions.

But, when caffeine is ingested and absorbed into the body, adenosine can no longer do its job and we feel more active and alert. This is because caffeine has a similar shape to adenosine and so is disguised in the brain and blocks adenosine from functioning. This can reverse sleepiness and, in turn, improve physical and cognitive performance. Additional positive symptoms may include increased motivation, sociability and concentration, which in itself explains why coffee is the world’s favourite ‘sleep-fighter’.

Chemical structures of caffeine and adenosine

Adenosine doesn’t disappear with caffeine’s presence; it hides in the body until caffeine retreats and floods the brain, causing extreme lethargy and piercing headaches. If that wasn’t enough, caffeine can severely dehydrate the body eventually causing dizziness, light-headedness and even more headaches.

As infamously quoted by the Daily Telegraph in 2010, an espresso a day can “have a potentially damaging effect on the heart.” Though slightly exaggerated, its scientific roots make it a somewhat valid statement. Research conducted on 20 healthy men and women found that there was a small increase in blood pressure after drinking an espresso as opposed to a decaffeinated drink, highlighting how compromising caffeinated products can be on cardiovascular health. As blood pressure and heart rate increases, the body becomes more aroused, displaying symptoms of physical anxiety like jitters, irritability, jumpiness and in more serious cases, a full-on panic attack.

Over-consumption of coffee can very easily lead to dependence which comes with some serious health complications

A mocha latte or a flat white every once in a while, is perfectly fine and even advisable for a busy and demanding lifestyle. But once you find yourself drinking 6–8 cups of coffee a day, you may want to consider switching to decaf or abandoning caffeinated products completely.

As caffeine dependence intensifies, withdrawal symptoms become more threatening, and, like with most drugs, caffeine withdrawal is no walk in the park. Along with pounding headaches, symptoms of caffeine withdrawal can include nausea due to do dehydration, dizziness, lethargy, constipation, insomnia, and ‘brain fog’.

Caffeinated products, coffee especially, is best enjoyed in moderation. Over-consumption of coffee can very easily lead to dependence which comes with some serious health complications. But, if you find that staying away from caffeine is too impossible a task, every now and then, switch to decaf to enjoy the hearty coffee taste without all the caffeine. Your body on caffeine doesn’t do so well, so if you enjoy your share of coffee, try your best to make your daily tall americano a small and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Feyintoluwa Ayanlaja

Featured image at the Speciality Coffee Shop, Nottingham taken by Matthew Bird and used with permission.

In article image of chemical structures of caffeine and adenosine by ClockworkSoul from Wikimedia. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

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12 Days of FreshersHumans and HealthLifestyleScience

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