If you’re a coffee drinker, nay a coffee aficionado, you have definitely come across your share of unsolicited advice on how you may be drinking too much or too little coffee. This write-up will not be doing that.
As a psychologist, I pride myself on my ability to be non-judgemental and objectively assess what research puts out in front of me. And research has a lot to say about coffee. What we are looking at though, is what is happening between your morning cuppa and your brain.
Why the Brain?
The brain interacts with every bit of stimuli. If you’re like most people, you will interact with coffee at least a few different times in a day. Your brain is having to process this stimulus and respond to it appropriately. Therefore, considering the impact of coffee on the brain is essential to our understanding of what it does.
Caffeine and mimicry
Caffeine directly impacts on the production of adrenaline, cortisol, and dopamine; all well-known hormones that oversee a long list of functions in the body. However, more than anything else, caffeine directly interacts with adenosine receptors in the brain. These receptors are awaiting the hormone, adenosine, which signals your body to relax and wind down. When your body absorbs caffeine instead of adenosine, you end up feeling more alert, awake, and ready to go. Caffeine mimics the adenosine hormone near perfectly, which is why it is as effective as we know it to be.
In most recent research, we have found that the cocktail of active chemicals in coffee interacts with the brain in a way that actually protects it from aging. We also know that coffee is the major food source for antioxidants for a majority of the world; these protect from brain damage through aging and disease. It is also noteworthy that decaffeinated coffees have the same level of antioxidants as caffeinated coffee. We also know the same benefits are not replicated through tea, indicating chemicals other than caffeine are contributing to the antioxidant make up.
However, it is important to remember that coffee will always have stimulating effects on our body; more energy, alertness, concentration, alongside insomnia and restlessness.
The Brain loves Coffee
There is a reason coffee feels addictive, because it creates a neurological firework in the brain that feels really good. You can have a sigh of relief here because generally, caffeine intake is safe within the intake levels of the general population.
Research has shown an inverse association between mortality, cancer, diabetes, and the consumption of coffee. This is on top of existing knowledge indicating a high caffeine intake leading to a decreased risk of Alzheimers and other forms of cognitive decline.
The human body benefits from coffee in other ways too. The gut microbiome has received a lot of attention lately due to the role it plays in mediating mental wellbeing. A specific type of gut bacteria that improves the function of the immune system, is supplemented through coffee. We know that it isn’t just caffeine leading to this, as direct caffeine has not shown the same benefits in people. It is the unique chemical composition of coffee that leads to these, among other benefits in the body.
So enjoy your almond spiced latte 💫