With it's stimulating effects, it's easy to understand why coffee is the second most traded commodity on Earth after oil.
For many, it keeps us awake and moving through our busy days. But how does it work? What exactly does coffee do to your brain?
Whenever you're awake, a chemical called adenosine slowly accumulates in your brain. And this adenosine binds to receptors which slow down brain activity - ultimately, the more adenosine there is, the more tired your brain feels.
Which makes sense, as the longer you're awake, the more fatigued you become. Conversely, while you sleep, the concentration of adenosine declines, gradually promoting wakefulness.
But it turns out that the caffeine in your coffee is incredibly similar to adenosine in structure. The caffeine works its way through your bloodstream and into the brain, where it starts to compete and binds with adenosine receptors.
But because it's not adenosine, the 'sleepiness' effect isn't felt. Adenosine can no longer bind, meaning it's calming properties are diminished. Which is great for you when you're feeling tired!
However, with long term use of caffeine, your brain responds by creating more adenosine receptors - which means more caffeine is required to elicit the same response. It also means that when you try to quit drinking coffee or miss your daily intake, you might experience some withdrawal symptoms and feel more tired than you would have before you ever drank coffee!
But the caffeine doesn't stop there ! It also stimulates the production of adrenaline - you know, the Fight or Flight hormone? This increases your heart rate, get s your blood pumping, and even opens up your airways.
Furthermore, it affects Dopamine levels by preventing its reabsorption in the brain, which makes you feel happy! In fact, this is the exact same thing that cocaine does, just to a lesser degree. It's a drug, afterall! This dopamine stimulation is also the aspect of coffee that makes it moderately addictive.
So can you drink too much coffee? It turns out there is a lethal dose of caffeine which is somewhere around 150mg of caffeine per kilogram of your body. This means if you weigh 70kg you would require 14,000mg of caffeine to overdose. Put into perspective, an average cup of coffee contains roughly 150mg of caffeine, meaning if you are 70kg, approximately 70 cups of coffee would kill you.
However, you'd have to drink those cups all at once making it effectively impossible to overdose on caffeine from coffee, since you wouldn't be able to physically fit that much in your stomach. You'd also start experiencing mania and hallucinations before getting to this point.
Caffeine also has a halflife of around 6 hours -so if you drank a standard coffee with around 150mg of caffeine, after about 6 hours there will only be 75mg left in your system and you'll be feeling half of the effect. And 6 hours after that, you'll have 37.5mg - leaving more room for adenosine to jump back into action.
Which is why you may reach for another cup throughout the day, to maintain that glorious, alert and energetic feeling. So drink up! And enjoy the buzz. . . while it lasts.