WHAT CAFFEINE IS AND HOW IT AFFECTS OUR MIND
We all have those friends who just won’t get going until they have had their first cup of coffee. They may be heard saying : “How do people even socialize without three cups of black coffee running through their veins?” or “I probably need to move on to caffeine pills now, anyone know a source?” and so on.
So what exactly is caffeine?
It is a natural stimulant commonly found in tea, cacao and coffee plants, whose consumption makes us feel more alert and less tired.
It is said that the first tea was brewed as far back as 2737 BC! Coffee itself would later be discovered by an Ethiopian shepherd who noticed the extra energy it gave his goats.
Caffeinated soft drinks first made their appearance in the 18th century, 1881 being when the first cola-flavoured beverage was made, with Charles Alderton creating Dr. Pepper in 1885 followed by Dr. John S. Pemberton creating Coca-Cola (with cocaine as an active ingredient!) in 1886, and 1898 was the year Caleb Bradham founded Pepsi-Cola.
Fun fact: Carbonated soft drinks were initially seen as health drinks due to their bubbly resemblance to mineral spring water, and sold in pharmacies. (It was believed that mineral spring water cured health problems).
These days, 80% of the world’s population is said to consume a caffeinated product each day.
Now let’s move on to how it works.
Caffeine once consumed, is absorbed quickly from the gut into the bloodstream and from there, travels to the liver and is broken down into compounds that can affect the functions of various organs, one of them being the brain.
Caffeine is one of the few substances that easily bypasses the blood-brain barrier, a protective barrier that exists to prevent the brain from being infected by viruses or other foreign bacteria and elements.
It does this via masquerading as a chemical in our brain, known by the name adenosine. Simply put, adenosine is a brain chemical that binds to the adenosine receptors, and its general function is to signal our nerve cells to slow down. This causes drowsiness.
Caffeine, in essence, looks like adenosine to our adenosine receptors, and once it has crossed the blood-brain barrier, it generally goes on to bind itself to these receptors. Now the receptors can no longer recognize the adenosine present, as caffeine has blocked all available receptors ! So, we do not feel tired.
Caffeine's effect on the brain also causes increased neuron firing and activation of the “fight or flight” response of the body.
So, if we consume too much caffeine, not only are we NOT gaining more energy, but we are also preventing energy replenishment by interfering with our ability to sleep!
We will learn more about the effects of caffeine in the next article !