Caffeine Cause and Effect
I am not bashful about discussing my coffee consumption or the fact that some might even consider it excessive. There are few things that I enjoy more than a freshly brewed, stout double shot of espresso from a porcelain sancerre. For me, the coffee goodness can be almost metaphysical. However, having heard that caffeine may be less than ideal for my overall well-being, it is probably time for us to take a moment to consider how it interacts with the body and what happens as the result of our over-caffeinated state. Jumping right in, the world’s most widely used psychoactive drug (according to the FDA, 80% of adults consume daily), caffeine is an neurological and metabolic stimulant that is used both recreationally and medicinally to reduce fatigue and increase awareness, but may have an adverse impact on our bodies that could potentially hinder our efforts at total health and wellness (Yayyyyyy!)
Absorption and Elimination
Caffeine is absorbed through the small intestines within 45 minutes after consumption, peaks around 15 minutes later and stays in our system between 4 and 6 hours. On the other end, the rate at which caffeine leaves our body is a little less certain as its elimination is dependent upon age, medications and liver function. And, although caffeine has diuretic properties for those not accustomed to its awesomeness, studies have generally found that regular users with a developed tolerance do not experience significant levels of dehydration 1.
Neurologic and Metabolic Stimulation
Primarily affecting the central nervous system, caffeine’s dominant effect on the body is its ability to counteract the substance adenosine. By connecting with phosphates, adenosine attaches itself to adenosine receptors in a generally protective role to conserve energy. Molecularly similar to adenosine, caffeine works by hijacking adenosine receptors in the brain leaving free energy in the brain to prevent us from getting drowsy 2. Concurrently, caffeine hits the pituitary gland and stimulates the production of adrenaline and release of dopamine. Adrenaline provides us a spike of energy in response to stress while dopamine facilitates communication across the brain by transmitting information across neural synapsis and provides us the oh-so-good feeling I mentioned previously 3.
As a stimulate, there are concerns over the possible abuse of caffeine because of its similarities to other illicit stimulates (I’m not gonna name names here, but you know who you are). However, drugs of abuse lead to increased cerebral activity in the reward center of the brain (close to the brain stem), while caffeine triggers activity in the prefrontal cortex (the front of the brain) 4.
Caffeine, the world’s most actively used neurological and metabolic stimulant, improves awareness and reduces fatigue by counteracting adenosine and stimulating adrenaline and dopamine production. While there are concerns for the potential abuse, the levels at which we need to consume caffeine that constitute abuse are almost unfathomable and we need not be concerned with overuse. Taking all this into consideration, I believe that as long as we are not brushing our teeth with Monster energy drinks, moderate caffeine consumption is not as bad as it is made out to be. And, although complete abstinence may be the best plan of action, if a couple cups of coffee every morning is your biggest vice, I believe the benefits outweighs the risks.
Just for fun, here is more on my hedonistic coffee consumption and the potential benefits of regularly drinking this magical brew.
Also, here is the F.D.A.’s list of the amounts of caffeine contained in some of our favorite beverages.