Posted in Reference
"Dad, what're drugs?"
Eric lowered the cup of coffee from his mouth, laid the newspaper in
his lap, fixed Eric Jr. with a serious look and replied "They're
bad for you." Turning away, he raised the cup to his lips again,
just before Eric Jr. asked, "Dad, what's caffeine?"
There is no denying it-
caffeine is a drug, and a very popular one at that. I imagine there
are very few countries, if any, that do not have access to something
that contains caffeine. Coffee and tea are well known for containing
caffeine, but chocolate does too, along with cola and certain types
of energy drinks and medication.
So what does caffeine do to
our system? One of the main effects caffeine has on us, and surely
the one most people seek, is its ability to ward off fatigue. The way
it does this is by binding to adenosine receptors in the brain.
Normally, adenosine would attach itself to these receptors and slow
down nerve cell activity which causes drowsiness, and is how the body
prompts you to sleep. When caffeine attaches itself however, it means
your body won't be receiving its 'you ought to sleep now' prompt.
With the drowsiness dealt with, increased neural activity means that
the pituitary gland assumes there is an emergency and produces
adrenaline. Dopamine, which is well known for creating a feel good
effect, increases as the rate of absorption is slowed. It is no
wonder given these three boosts that caffeine is so popular today.
It is important to remember
that caffeine is a drug- and with any large amount of drug use, there
are inevitable consequences. It is possible to develop an addiction
to caffeine, particularly for the increased dopamine effect. Ceasing
intake of caffeine after a long period of time can cause withdrawal
problems, leaving you with problems such as headaches, irritability,
loss of concentration, drowsiness, insomnia... lots of things you
might prefer to avoid, I'm sure. The easiest way to prevent these is
to limit your daily intake to a suggested 300mg of caffeine ( though
individuals' tolerances will vary). Alternatively, if you've already
had a cup of coffee in the morning at home, don't pick up the bargain
bucket 30oz. coffee special on the way to work. Possible worries
aside, caffeine has some beneficial effects too. Caffeine has been
subject to thousands of studies over the years, and it has been
reported that it can help to reduce risk of colon cancer, Parkinson's
disease and cirrhosis to name just a few. With these benefits in
mind, you could well be better off enjoying a quality cup of coffee
at decent intervals rather than indiscriminate guzzling which would
undermine caffeine's positive role.