Have you ever wondered why you need your morning cup of coffee to start your day? Caffeine is the answer. Coffee, tea and other foods that contain caffeine have stimulating effects that can help you feel more alert and focused.
What exactly is caffeine? And how does this stimulant affect the body?
What is Caffeine?
Caffeine is, technically, considered a drug. And it’s the most commonly used drug in the entire world.
Scientifically speaking, caffeine is a crystalline xanthine alkaloid that is bitter and white. This substance is the direct result of nitrogen metabolism in some plants. Caffeine is part of the heterocyclic compounds family, and a group of substances that are naturally occurring known as methylxanthines.
Caffeine occurs naturally in the seeds, leaves or fruit of over 60 different plants, including:
- Coffee beans
- Kola nuts
- Cacao beans
- Yoco bark
- Yerba mate
Some teas and types of coffee contain more caffeine than others. Black tea, for example, contains more caffeine than green tea. Espresso contains more caffeine than regular coffee.
What many people don’t realize is that caffeine acts as a natural pesticide for plants. It kills and paralyzes insects that try to eat the plants. Friedrich Ferdinand Runge, a German chemist, was the first person to isolate the caffeine molecule in the early 1800s.
How Caffeine Affects the Body
No matter how you consume it, caffeine affects both the body and the brain to make you feel and behave differently.
Caffeine acts as a natural stimulant for the central nervous system, which includes the spinal cord, brain and nerves in the body.
When consumed, caffeine restricts the blood vessels to the brain and increases the firing of neurons. The pituitary gland then goes into “emergency mode” by releasing hormones that signal to the adrenal gland that it’s time to start producing adrenaline.
Adrenaline is known as the “fight or flight” hormone, and it has numerous effects on the body:
- Increases your heartrate
- Dilates your pupils
- Increases blood pressure
- Tightens your muscles
- Slows down the blood flow to your stomach
- Causes the liver to release sugar into the bloodstream for added energy
The three primary effects that caffeine has on the body is: increased alertness, wakefulness and concentration.
Caffeine can also improve your mood, giving you a positive boost when you need it most.
While caffeine may give you the jumpstart you need to get thorough your morning, it can also cause some negative side effects. These include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Rapid heartbeat
- Uneven heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Upset stomach
- Frequent urination
As you can see, caffeine does cause its fair share of unpleasant side effects. Many people experience an upset stomach or heartburn after drinking coffee. This may be caused by the caffeine causing your stomach to release acid.
Caffeine reaches its peak level in the blood within an hour of consuming it, and its effects will last for four to six hours.
Many people refer to coffee as a drug, and they aren’t wrong. Over time, people develop a dependency on this substance, and may even experience withdrawal when they stop consuming it.
Withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Poor concentration
- Severe headache
- Muscle aches
While it may seem like caffeine is a substance you should stay away from, most scientists and doctors agree that regular consumption of caffeine is generally safe. In fact, you can consume up to 400mg a day without experiencing any negative side effects. That’s about 4 or 5 cups of coffee. So go ahead – enjoy your morning cup of Joe without feeling guilty.