The Health Effects of Coffee

Steve GOctober 2nd, 2007
By: Steve G

Every day, millions of people consume coffee for that early morning jolt. What many people do not know is that caffeine is the most widely used behaviorally active drug in the world. Almost 80 percent of American adults consume at least one cup on a regular basis. Because so many people use coffee to stimulate mood, coffee has garnered attention from health researchers around the world.

But what are its risks versus its rewards? Are there any dangerous side effects by consuming coffee? Should coffee be considered an addictive drug? While many people have spent years studying the effects, there have been no conclusive results. For every study supporting the health benefits of coffee, there is a counter-study that supports the opposite.

How caffeine works

Research into why caffeine has such a powerful effect on the brain only began in the 1970s. To understand how caffeine works, you must first look at the chemical adenosine. Adenosine is a depressant that is naturally produced by the body. It depresses mood and alertness, promoting sleep. Adenosine also suppresses the need to urinate, slows gastric secretion, and reduces respiration. Adenosine receptors are located on the surface of the brain. More adenosine is produced as the day goes on, until the body finally tires so that it goes to sleep. Coincidentally, the molecular structure of adenosine is very similar to that of caffeine. As you will learn, this is the key characteristic that causes caffeines invigorating effects. Caffeine is the opposite of adenosine, because it is a stimulant that keeps the body awake. When a person drinks coffee, caffeine attaches to the adenosine receptors in the brain. Because caffeine possesses a molecular structure similar to adenosines, it works as a sort of adenosine imposter. The body then slows production of adenosine because its tricked into thinking that enough adenosine is already being circulated.

Once caffeine enters the body, new compounds are produced that not only break down caffeine, but also help in performance as well. Metabolites, such as theobromine, are introduced that increase levels of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Other compounds are responsible for an increase in heart rate and fuel for the muscles. During the metabolism of caffeine, the human body can run at full speed without any type of regulation.

When caffeine is expelled from the body, the adenosine imposter is removed, thereby triggering the withdrawal phase of caffeine. The body soon realizes that there is a lack of depressants and increases the sensitivity to adenosine. Because of this sensitivity, the body drastically changes in mood. Cerebral blood flow increases, and certain side effects such as headaches and drowsiness occur. The severity of the withdrawal effects varies, depending on the regularity of caffeine consumption.

The dreaded coffee crash.
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