Mystery Busted: How Caffeine Actually Works on Your Brain & Body

We're all familiar with the elevating physical effects of caffeine - But the science behind what's actually happening to your brain and body after sipping on a caffeinated drink still remains a bit of a mystery for a lot of us.

If you're in the dark about why caffeine makes us feel the way it does, you're in for a surprise... And when you discover what caffeine's actually doing in your body, it brings a whole new appreciation to this incredible pick-me-up!

As coffee-lovers, we did a bit of digging to bust this mystery...

Check out this incredible process below, and get ready to be astounded by how caffeine actually works on your brain and body:


WHY CAFFEINE IS THE #1 STIMULANT

Caffeine is and always will be an incredible source of energy, focus and clarity for the masses - with its powerful boosting properties, minimal side-effects and easy accessibility, there's little wonder caffeine is so popular!

Whether it’s that steaming cup o' Joe that gets you up in the morning, a sweet afternoon Earl Grey, or the occasional energy drink for a big day at work... Almost everyone has their preferred pick-me-up. In fact, a whopping 85% of Americans consume at least one caffeinated drink every day.

Caffeine boasts an array of benefits, from enhancing mental and physical endurance, to boosting mood and metabolism.

Studies have even linked a daily cup of coffee with lower risk of depression, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain forms of cancer.

Long story short, there are serious advantages to joining the caffeine-imbibing majority!

how exactly does caffeine work in the brain & body?

what caffeine combats

There are a variety of factors going into play while caffeine works its magic, but it all starts by counteracting something called Adenosine: A neurotransmitter that calms brain activity, dilates blood vessels and promotes relaxation.

In other words, adenosine is responsible for making us feel tired so we can catch some z’s after a long day. These sleepy molecules’ job is to find their way to their “on switch” in our brain (called A1 receptors), and activate them.

As the day goes on, adenosine molecules build up in our brain, making us feel increasingly more and more tired and eventually allowing us to fall asleep when the day draws to a close.

The issue for many of us, however, is when adenosine sneaks up on us before we're ready to stop for the night! By the afternoon, you're feeling weary, lacking focus and losing motivation - it's time for some caffeine to perk you up so you can get through the day!

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how caffeine tricks our brains

Caffeine works in an incredible way. It mimics the adenosine molecule, tricking the brain and blocking the adenosine itself from reaching and activating their A1 receptors.

This intercepts the adenosine from getting to their intended place, reducing and delaying fatigue and tiredness.

energizing effects felt in the body

Not only does caffeine block the sleepy-feeling adenosine molecules from doing their job in your brain, it also triggers your body's nerve cells to fire faster and your blood vessels to constrict!

This further accelerates sensations of wakefulness and alertness overall in your brain and body.

In addition, it increases blood adrenaline levels and fires the brain’s happy chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine, adding to its euphoric energy. This gives you a pepped-up "body high", making your muscles feel energized and firing on all cylinders.

How long do the effects of caffeine last?

As one of the fastest-working psychoactive substances, caffeine goes to work as soon as 15 minutes after consumption.

This is possible because the molecule is amphiphilic, meaning it contains both hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties. In other words, caffeine has an All-Access Pass that lets it move freely through all membranes of the body.

This quality is most evident in the blood-brain barrier, where caffeine has the ability to pass through quickly and start working its magic.

Once activated, the effects will hit their peak around the 45 minute to 1-hour mark, and taper off throughout the rest of the day with a typical half-life of 5 to 7 hours.

Hence, it’s best to wait an hour to let the caffeine kick in before reaching for your second cup of coffee. Furthermore, be sure to and leave no less than 6 hours between your last cup and bedtime so your adenosine has ample time to replenish and make you feel sleepy before bed.

what's the caffeine sweet spot? 

If you've ever been pounding back espressos and felt jittery, you'll know that this powerful stimulant can come with a couple of drawbacks if not used properly!

To get the benefits and none of the side-effects, the FDA recommends no more than 400mg of caffeine per day (around 2 to 4 cups, depending on the drink's strength and caffeine concentration).

As with everything in life, moderation is key. It should be noted that there are proven adverse effects of caffeine when indulged in too heavily.

A cup too many could result in uncomfortable and inhibiting symptoms like increased heart rate, irritability, digestive issues, and sleep disruption or insomnia.

Go easy on the caffeine, take care of your consumption, and  it will take care of you!  

Pretty incredible stuff, right? Now you're armed with this greater understanding of how caffeine affects us physiologically; it's easier to know when it's good to use as a tool, how long it works for, and when to taper off for the night so you can get quality sleep.

I bet you'll never look at your coffee, tea or energy drink the same way again!

Maggie |
 Greens Steel Lifestyle Contributor

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