School is in full swing, and needless to say, I find myself staying up for those late-night study sessions. To survive these, I turn to my savior, tea. But what about tea help me get through? Caffeine.
What exactly is caffeine? It’s a natural occurring chemical stimulant also know as trimethylxanthine; its chemical formula being C8H10N4O2. Caffeine is actually a drug, and (surprisingly) it shares many traits with other drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin. It’s a white powder in its pure form which is actually very bitter. It also is medically used as a mild diuretic which increases urine production to flush fluid out of the body. Caffeine uses much of the same biochemical mechanisms to stimulate brain function.
How does caffeine give you that energetic, jittery feeling throughout the day? First, as the neurons fire throughout the day, a neurochemical called adenosine builds up in your body. The nervous system (responsible for the control of the body and communication among its parts) monitors your body’s adenosine levels. As the day wears on, more and more adenosine passes through those receptors; and makes you sleepy. Caffeine is the same size and shape as adenosine. When you consume anything with caffeine, your adenosine receptors can’t tell the difference between the two. The caffeine attaches to the adenosine receptor and blocks the incoming adenosine, and because of this, your body’s adenosine being built up can’t enter. With all that adenosine blocked, the caffeine keeps you from getting tired. Other neurotransmitters like dopamine (control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers) and glutamate (mediator of excitatory signals and involved in aspects of normal brain function including cognition, memory and learning) also get a head start; these more stimulating molecules thrive.
When all the caffeine wears out, all the extra adenosine rushes through the receptors, and it takes a long time for your body to process the new metabolites. As a result, it leaves you groggier than before.
Caffeine has been extremely important in global culture for years. Folklore says that the energizing properties of caffeine were discovered around 800 AD, and in Europe and Asia, coffee and tea were staples as early as 1400s. Today, caffeine is found in many popular food products, including many beverages. Colas such as Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, and Dr. Pepper contain 35 to 55 milligrams per 12-ounce (355 milliliter) can. Energy drinks also have huge amounts of caffeine, mixed with sugar and other stimulants. Red Bull and Rockstar contain about 80 milligrams of caffeine per 8.3-ounce (245-milliliter) and 8-ounces (236-milliliter) serving. Caffeine is found naturally in chocolate, tea, and coffee.
In tea and coffee, the brewing processes and types of coffee beans or tea leaves used can affect the caffeine concentration. But, both have the potential to have more caffeine than strong energy drinks. A 5-ounce (147-milliliter) serving of coffee, for example, could contain up to 150 milligrams of caffeine, while the same serving of black tea could contain as much as 80 milligrams. If you are buying your coffee at Starbucks or a convenience store or drinking it at home or the office out of a mug, you may be consuming it in 12-, 14- or 20-ounce containers. Try putting that into perspective!
But, one of the traits caffeine has which is shared with many hard drugs is the ability to cause addiction. I actually wrote a post about this previously (see The Life & Time of a Tea Addict), where I talked about how addiction works. Many people find that they need that extra boost to their day. Even though caffeine’s effects may be much milder than those of illicit drugs, kicking a caffeine habit can be difficult for someone who has made the drug a large part of his or her diet and lifestyle (basically me).
Other long-term effects of caffeine include:
- Dehydration (caffeine intake causes increased urination, which may cause dehydration)
- Faster heart rate (may damage the heart due to its accelerated pace and inability to function normally)
- Blood pressure spikes
- Insomnia (caffeine stimulates the body and mind, making it difficult to calm down to the point where sleep is possible)
- Peptic ulcer irritant
- Depression (caffeine causes spikes and dips in mood and energy levels; this may increase the risk of experiencing symptoms of depression)
- Headaches (too much caffeine overstimulates the nervous system; this eventually may cause head pain)
Like I previously mentioned in my previous post, I actually have gotten tea banned from my life because of reoccurring headaches, so I have experienced the negatives of caffeine first hand and I definitely do understand and sympathize where all the people who are addicted to caffeine are coming from. I found other ways to curb this addiction, though. So for all those caffeine addicts out there (you know who you are), I hope you learnt something from this, and will try to make a change to your lifestyle as best as you can.