The vast majority of people use caffeine in some form every single day, and most of us use way too much of it. It helps you wake up in the morning, but if you drink too much you get jittery. So how does caffeine actually work?
First, Where Did Caffeine Use Originate From?
The origin of caffeine can be traced back to ancient Ethiopia, where the coffee plant (Coffea arabica) was first discovered in the 9th century. The plant was cultivated and the beans were used to make a beverage that was known for its invigorating properties. The use of coffee spread to other countries, including the Middle East and Europe, through trade and colonisation, and it quickly became a popular beverage.
By the 17th and 18th centuries, coffee was well established as a popular beverage in Europe and the Americas, and it was also used for medicinal purposes. In the late 1600s, tea became a popular drink in Britain, and it too contained caffeine. The growing popularity of caffeine-containing beverages led to a greater understanding of the effects of caffeine, and its use as a stimulant was widely recognized.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, caffeine was discovered Friedlieb Ferdinand Runge, a German chemist who also discovered the first coal tar dye. The story has it that, while working in a pharmacy, Runge accidentally got a drop of extract from the belladonna plant (also known as deadly nightshade) in his eye. After noticing that it had caused his pupils to dilate, Runge began to experiment on his cat and went on to write a dissertation about the effects of this chemical.
Roughly ten years after this discovery, Runge gave a presentation on his findings at the University of Jena in Germany, where he was studying at the time. His professor, J. W. Döbereiner, was an adviser to the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who was present at the presentation. An impressed Goethe asked for a private meeting where Runge could demonstrate his cat’s pupils dilating. After the requested meeting took place, Goethe gave Runge a packet of coffee beans he had been given during his worldwide travels. He suggested that Runge should look into their composition.
Runge followed Goethe’s advice and, a year later, was able to isolate caffeine as a substance. Despite this breakthrough, Runge’s accomplishments are often unrecognized, as many went on to attribute this discovery to others. He later lost his job and died in poverty.
The isolation of caffeine as an ingredient led to the creation of new products, including Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, which contained caffeine as a stimulant. The popularity of these beverages, along with other caffeinated drinks, continued to grow, and today, caffeine is one of the most widely used psychoactive substances in the world— It is estimated that over 80% of adults in the world consume caffeine on a regular basis.
In addition to its use in drinks, caffeine is also found in a variety of food and medications, including chocolate, energy drinks, and headache remedies.
How Caffeine Actually Affects Your Body
Caffeine is a stimulant that affects the central nervous system, primarily by blocking the action of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that promotes drowsiness. When adenosine levels build up in the brain, they signal to the body that it is time to sleep. By blocking the action of adenosine, caffeine increases alertness and wakefulness, and can improve focus and concentration.
Much like cocaine and heroin, caffeine also stimulates the production of other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which are associated with feelings of pleasure and increased energy. This is why people can become addicted to caffeine.
Short bursts of caffeine in the body can make us alert and happy. However, because of its addictive quality, it’s easier to become dependent on the energy a high dose of caffeine provides. Coming out of a caffeine boost can cause fatigue and irritability. It can also lead to headaches, as the blood vessels in your brain (which have gotten used to being constricted by the drug) dilate when the caffeine leaves your system.
The FDA has classified caffeine as a drug, although they believe it is safe for adults to consume up to 400 milligrams per day. It is often used to treat fatigue and has been shown to boost moods and improve upon the effects of some painkillers.
Caffeine isn’t all bad, though. Recent studies have shown some promising connections between small amounts of caffeine and lower rates of developing various diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and colon cancer. It can also help motivate people to exercise, which is a crucial part of maintaining overall health. Try limiting yourself to three or four cups of coffee and you should be fine.
RELATED: Can You Develop a Tolerance to Caffeine?
Mid-Afternoon Crash Making You Tired? Try This Instead
If you’re like almost anybody else on the planet, by the middle of the afternoon you’re just about ready to go take a nap, and you’re probably downing a couple more cups of coffee just to try to make it through the rest of the day without spilling coffee on your laptop.
According to the nueroscientist Andrew Huberman, this happens because your body naturally will break down the adenosine in your system during the 90 minutes after you wake up, but since most people are drinking coffee, tea, or some other caffeinated beverage in the morning that binds to the adenosine receptors, your body doesn’t clear it out like it should. Once the caffeine effects start to wear off… wham! You’re sleepy all over again.
The trick is to avoid drinking any caffeine until 60-90 minutes after you wake up, to allow your body to naturally clear out the adenosine. At this point you can have all the caffeinated beverages you want without having to worry about a mid-afternoon crash. We’ve tried it, and it really helps!
We wouldn’t recommend drinking too much coffee though, as it can prevent you from getting good rest, especially if you’re drinking it before bed.
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