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"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?" Flipping kids.

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.

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