With 2.25 billion cups of coffee being drunk every day around the world it seems crazy that most of us don’t know the first thing about how it helps us. Many of us know that coffee contains caffeine and that caffeine gives us the buzz from our morning joe, but what makes coffee truly amazing?
Let’s start by getting to know caffeine a little better. A cup of coffee contains roughly between 50-100mg in each ‘shot’. When you drink coffee, the caffeine is absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream within 45 minutes.
The magic happens once it reaches your nervous system and interacts with your adenosine receptors, responsible for regulating how tired you feel. As the day goes on, your brain releases adenosine which latches onto those receptors. The more it builds up, the slower your brain activity becomes and eventually you want to get into bed and rest your head comfortably on your favourite pillow.
But, what if you need to work into the night or you’re tired from the night before?
Coffee to the rescue. From your first sip, the caffeine in your brew fills your brain. The caffeine acts as the alpha male to the sleep-inducing adenosine, latching itself to the same brain receptors and leaving adenosine to step aside. In the hot seat of the receptor, the caffeine speeds up brain activity getting you ready to breeze through the morning.
Now that we know how caffeine is speeding up brain activity, what is it about coffee that gives you a rush of physical energy?
As your brain speeds up the body begins to release adrenaline, the energy system in the body, giving rise to the desired rush we’re all too familiar with. This feeling of being primed and ready is the body’s natural flight or fight response and the heightened state of alertness is what many of us are looking for to get us in the optimal state of flow.
The stage is set, but what about that warm happy feeling that rushes over us?
This is where dopamine, the so-called “pleasure chemical”, comes in. Remember the sleep-inducing adenosine from earlier that was pushed to the side by caffeine? The brain now utilises it as it plays a role in the functioning of dopamine. The excessive adenosine activates higher levels of dopamine, which contributes to attention, wakefulness and of course mood.
These effects generally remain for 4-6hrs as your body works to process the caffeine and the metabolites that this produces come with their own set of benefits, which will be explained in a later article. As the effects wear off, the sleep-inducing adenosine begins to take up its position in the receptors you begin to feel tired. This feeling is the commonly reported afternoon crash and is the time most of us will reach out for another cup of coffee to start the process all over again.
Coffee really is a marvellous creation.