CAFFEINE AND THE BRAIN: ENEMIES OR BEST FRIENDS?

August 25, 2022

A steaming mug of coffee or tea is what the majority of us enjoy waking up to. It energizes us, prepares us for the day ahead, and a huge number of people the world over find it difficult to truly “wake up” or clear their head without these beverages.

But what is it that makes coffee, or tea for that matter, so important to our productivity?

Well, it’s the caffeine in both these beverages that does the trick. Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance in coffee beans, cocoa beans, tea leaves, cola nuts, and specific kinds of berries. Which means the products made from these plants also contain this chemical – namely coffee, tea, chocolate etc. Caffeine is also used in cola-based drinks and energy drinks.

Caffeine has a host of impacts on our brain and its functions – both positive and negative. Read on to learn about them!

Ways Caffeine is Good for Your Brain

  • Alertness and attention – Caffeine suppresses a neurotransmitter called adenosine. This particular chemical influences our attention, memory, and sleep. Over the course of the day, adenosine levels rise in our brains, and after it reaches a certain level, it signals our bodies to prepare for sleep. Caffeine blocks adenosine build up, so you cannot get sleepy and therefore stay alert.
  • Reflexes – As your alertness increases, so does your ability to respond quickly to situations. Caffeine intake has been linked with decreased response time and increased vigilance, thereby improving your reflex actions.
  • Energy and mood – When caffeine blocks adenosine, other chemical components in the brain like dopamine, glutamate, and serotonin also get activated and start flowing more freely. Both dopamine and serotonin are associated with happiness and positive emotions in our brain, so caffeine gives us an instant energy boost and mood lift.
  • Memory – Caffeine boosts our long-term memory, at least up to a certain level. Recent research at the John Hopkins University suggests that caffeine can boost pattern separation abilities in our brains, making it more discerning and prone to spot differences in apparently similar images. This is a feature of long-term memory.
  • Reduced risk of Alzheimer’s Disease – Caffeine can shield you against Alzheimer’s or other memory-related diseases. New studies suggest that drinking three cups of coffee a day might prevent Alzheimer’s disease or at least delay its onset by several years in the elderly population. Scientists at the University of South Florida found in a study involving 124 people between ages 65-68 that the people who drank coffee every day had a significantly lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s later in life.

But a high consumption of caffeine can have negative impacts on your brain as well.

Ways Caffeine Can Be Bad for Your Brain

Caffeine is classified as a brain stimulant and a psychoactive drug. Like any drug, over-consumption of it can lead to addiction and withdrawal symptoms, and there are other side-effects as well.

  • Anxiety – For someone with an Anxiety Disorder, the stimulating effects of caffeine can turn negative. Caffeine makes them jittery, as it unlocks the “fight or flight” response in the brain and increases the chance of a panic attack.
  • Insomnia – Adenosine helps us sleep, and caffeine blocks it, which can lead to shallow and disruptive sleep patterns which are bad news for your brain performance. If you consume too much caffeine during the day it will keep you up at night, and essentially counteract the positive effects for the next day.
  • Addiction and health hazards – The cycle of coffee - bad sleep - drowsiness - more coffee can lead to dependence and addiction, which have other serious consequences like high blood pressure, increased acidity in the body, and potentially bowel diseases. All of this affects your brain and productivity.

Conclusion

It is clear that coffee can boost several functions of your brain, but only in moderation. Daily caffeine intake for a normal healthy adult should not exceed 400 mg, which translates to roughly 3-5 cups of coffee a day. So let’s raise our mugs to that, and drink a healthy amount for a brain boost!

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