What Does Coffee Do To Your Brain? Here's What Happens When You Drink Your Morning Cup Of Joe
You might be years past your last chemistry or anatomy class, but science is a magical subject, especially when it involves one of your absolute favorite beverages — coffee. Chances are, you're not openly thinking about what coffee does to your brain while you sip on your 16 ounces of caffeinated joy, but as you are probably familiar with what coffee does to your mood, it's probably important to think about the advantages and disadvantages caffeine has for your absolutely most vital organ, as well.
First things first — caffeine is a drug. It's not a scary, life-threatening drug that might cause the cast of Intervention to knock at your door, but as it's a substance that affects your central nervous system, it's definitely classified as such. As a stimulant, it speeds up the messages that your brain sends to the rest of your body, which is probably why you feel a lot more alert and awake after sipping on your first cup. This is why too much of it might make you a little anxious — everything is accelerated in your body, and it's often tough to regain composure. It's important to note that all of us process caffeine a little differently due to our genetics and overall body composition, which is why your friends may be able to handle more or less than you are. Since caffeine is present in so many beverages, we've probably all learned our limit. (Or at least, learned a lesson based on a sleepless night due to over-consumption. All-nighters can be rough in college.)
Let's talk about molecules for a second. Our bodies produce a molecule called adenosine, which is useful for energy transfer. When adenosine builds up in your system, you naturally feel more tired. As your day goes on, more and more adenosine slowly creeps up, which is why you're usually exhausted at the end of a busy day. Caffeine looks a lot like adenosine, which means that it's able to connect to adenosine receptors without your body really knowing the difference — but since caffeine makes you more awake, it acts completely different from adenosine, and, since it's taking its place, blocks this molecule from building up in your body. That's why coffee gives you a boost — it's literally fighting the sleepy molecules for a spot on their given receptors.
More things happen after caffeine blocks adenosine. This action causes a reaction in other body chemicals, such as dopamine (a neurotransmitter), serotonin (which balances your mood), and glutamate (an amino acid) that allows them to run a bit more freely, making you feel happier and more energized. Heightened levels of dopamine, in particular, often turns into an addiction. Your body wants more of the stuff that makes it feel good.
Eventually the adenosine revolts, and your body figures out what's going on. In response, it builds up more receptors for the molecule to cling onto. And that, my friends, describes the caffeine crash. It also describes why you often grab another cup of coffee in the early afternoon, to try and regain the level of alertness you had before. It's a rough process, but the craving for more caffeine is absolutely natural.
But that's not all! Caffeine also helps with migraines by helping to constrict blood vessels. That's why caffeine is often an ingredient in a lot of over-the-counter pain medications. As expected, overdoing it might cause more pain in the long run, but WebMD notes that a little bit of it has been proven to give some quick relief to help ease a headache.
Caffeine can definitely help your brain stay more alert in situations that requires it, such as a night of incomplete sleep, or during times when you feel absolutely drained due to mental stress and a large workload. The time when you grab a cup also makes a big difference — obviously if you're fond of an afternoon cup, you might have trouble sleeping due to misplaced adenosine. Your body will have more difficulty getting tired, and telling you that it's time to rest.
Remember how I said that caffeine is a drug? That means that your brain can easily get addicted to it. Studies have shown that you can form a tolerance towards coffee that'll make you want more and more to try and mimic the effects that a smaller dosage used to have. If you start every day with 10 ounces, and then start feeling absolutely nothing after ingesting it, it means that your body has grown tolerant to that amount and might require more to give you the alertness and positive energy that you're seeking. If you manage to keep your consumption at a normal level, you'll be giving your brain some extra relief as time marches forward.
But let's wrap up by focusing on a few more positive aspects that coffee has on your health. The good qualities of coffee have been proven to decrease the risk of Parkinson's Disease, Alzheimer's Disease, and overall cognitive decline due to aging. So with that in mind, drink up! You're doing your brain a favor.
Images: Giphy (3), Pixabay