What Does Coffee Do to My Brain?

Two out of every three adults in the US are daily coffee drinkers. Have you ever wondered exactly what all that coffee is doing to our brains?

Active Ingredients

Coffee is a complex liquid with hundreds of bioactive compounds, but the most important active ingredients are:

  • Caffeine
  • Chlorogenic Acids
  • Cafestol & Kahweol
  • Trigonelline

You’re probably familiar with the first ingredient, which will be the focus of this post, but the others have possible health benefits as well. Research is ongoing, so most of the statements have to be framed around the possibility of an ingredient providing a benefit, but there is reason to believe moderate amounts of coffee can provide plenty of upsides.

What about the caffeine?

Caffeine interacts with the brain primarily by blocking a neurotransmitter called adenosine. If you’re already tuning out – THAT’S WHAT THE ADENOSINE WANTS! It builds up in your brain all day long, and when it gets to a tipping point, you get sleepy. Caffeine’s molecule fits into the same receptors as adenosine and blocks it from telling your brain to be sleepy. When this happens, you experience it as:

  • Increased alertness
  • Better attention
  • Increased learning capacity
  • Quicker reaction time

Additionally, caffeine prevents your brain from reabsorbing dopamine, leading to higher levels overall. Dopamine is the feel-good of brain chemistry, and most drugs revolve around you getting more of it to feel better. This dopamine increase is what causes caffeine to be addictive for some people.

Is coffee bad for me?

The current FDA recommendation for healthy adults (who aren’t pregnant) is not to exceed 400 mg of caffeine per day. As long as you’re not having more than four strong cups, or supplementing your java with energy drinks – you should be fine. If you exceed that dosage, your brain will start to develop additional adenosine receptors. DON’T TUNE OUT, THE ADENOSINE WILL WIN!

With additional receptors, you need more caffeine to ward off sleepiness, which can lead to even more receptors and you filling a camelback of Foldger’s before you leave the house.

But I have this friend who drinks coffee by the gallon…

Because coffee’s effects come from interacting directly with your body, every person responds differently. The way your body processes caffeine is dependent on specific enzymes in the liver, and they vary from person to person. This explains why a cup of coffee at 2 pm can ruin a night’s sleep for some people, while others can knock back a triple-shot of espresso mere hours before bedtime.

To see an illustrated version of this info, check out scienceIRL’s video here:

If you want some Fall flavors and have a Keurig machine – check out our post.

Need to clean your coffee maker, pod or espresso machine? We’ve got you covered!

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