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What happens in your brain when you drink coffee?

What happens in your brain when you drink coffee?

May 24, 2022

Many people start the day with a good cup of coffee . This substance has reached throughout history a very high level of popularity, being taken by about 80% of the adult population and being an element widely present in everyday life, using its consumption even as a pretext at the time of socializing .

The coffee helps to clear up, increase the level of activation and improve the attentional capacity. But, How can coffee affect us in this way? What happens in your brain when you drink coffee?

Caffeine, an exciting substance

Caffeine, one of the main components of coffee, has as we already know psychoactive effects in our brain. Due to the effect they produce on the nervous system, they are part of psychostimulant or psychoanalytic substances, substances characterized by an increase in brain activation and metabolism, generally increasing the level of activity of the organism.


However, within this group, caffeine is considered a minor activator, forming together with theophylline and theobromine the group of substances known as xanthines. Said group, although it has activating effects in the organism, have a much less potent action than that of other excitatory substances and much less side effects, not frequently having serious adverse effects.

Caffeine takes a few minutes to reach the brain, and its effects tend to last about four to six hours . It is not uncommon to consume several times a day, without this having to be dangerous due to its low addictive potential. In spite of this, its habitual consumption ends up producing certain levels of tolerance, each time a greater quantity or frequency of the substance is necessary to reach the same effects as at the beginning.


Action at the cerebral level: mechanisms of action

About five minutes after having a cup of coffee, caffeine begins to exert its effects on the nervous system. This substance acts in a diverse way throughout the nervous system, interacting and causing effects in different types of neurotransmitter.

The activating effect of coffee is mainly due to the action on a hormone called adenosine, a hormone that helps maintain a state of calm and relaxation by encouraging the suppression of brain activity as well as maintaining medium or low levels of other hormones such as dopamine and noradrenaline. Caffeine acts as an antagonist of adenosine receptors, affecting its absorption in a way that inhibits its reuptake by neurons. This action results in an increase in brain activity and the intensity of transmission of nerve signals by allowing greater action by other hormones such as dopamine.


Brain reward system

In addition to its effect on adenosine, caffeine also interacts with other neurotransmitters. Another of the great effects of caffeine in the brain is the increase in the release of dopamine, which activates the cerebral reward mechanisms to induce a state of well-being.

However, while other substances such as cocaine activate the whole system (which facilitates its enormous addictive potential), caffeine and xanthines usually cause an increase in dopaminergic release in more specific areas such as the caudate nucleus and the prefrontal cortex. In this way a sensation of activation is achieved to a certain pleasant extent, but without the activation of the whole system of cerebral reward.

Caffeine in turn stimulates the noradrenergic and cholinergic systems, producing an increase in activation and an improvement in the ability to concentrate and information processing.

Finally, it is relevant to note that caffeine consumption causes an increase in cortisol levels, known as stress hormone, and adrenaline. This effect helps induce a state of activation at a physiological level that allows you to remain alert and attentive. However, it can also cause distress or negative stress that can lead to maladaptive behavior, cardiac acceleration or anxiety.

beneficial effects

The consumption of coffee can provide many benefits as long as it is carried out in a prudential manner and without excesses. Some of the positive effects that coffee has on the organism are the following .

1. Increase wakefulness and decrease fatigue level

The fact that caffeine inhibits the action of adenosine and potentiates an increase in cortisol and other excitatory hormones causes the level of consciousness to remain elevated, which causes levels of fatigue and fatigue that the body may be experiencing. be reduced.

2. It promotes the attention and learning capacity

By causing the maintenance of the level of consciousness and reducing the feelings of fatigue and fatigue the subject's attention capacity also rises, causing it to use and distribute their physical and cognitive resources more efficiently and for longer.

In addition, it allows nerve impulses to be transmitted with great intensity, which can favor the acquisition of new learning and the reinforcement of existing ones.

3. It has a protective effect against certain dementias

Recently, the possible role of caffeine consumption in contributing to the prevention of certain dementias has been investigated.

Specifically, its habitual consumption can serve as a protective factor against Parkinson's and Alzheimer's by producing stimulation of the dopaminergic, cholinergic and noradrenergic systems and having antioxidant effects that reduces the number of free radicals present in the system.

4. Accelerates the metabolism

The increase in activity produced by caffeine usually results in a state of physiological excitement, accelerating the metabolism not only of the brain but of the entire body. It has been shown that the consumption of coffee before physical exercise helps to break down the fat in our body.

In addition, this acceleration usually leads to an increase in physical activity, which in addition to facilitating fat burning predisposes the body to perform activities that allow it to be lost.

5. Diuretic effect

Caffeine also has an important diuretic effect. It has been shown to stimulate the production of urine, helping to excrete elements harmful to the body.

It also has anti-emetic effects if it is consumed in a moderate way, avoiding the appearance of vomiting and reducing the level of nausea,

Possible damages

One or several cups of coffee a day can positively affect our brain, but cAs in most substances and foods consumed, an excess can have adverse effects .

1. Sleep problems

As we mentioned earlier, caffeine causes a decrease in the feeling of fatigue or fatigue.

While it may increase the alert in people with daytime sleepiness, depending on how, when and how much is consumed can cause the individual not to be able to fall asleep , being the conciliation insomnia the most frequent effect.

2. Anxiety disorders

The elevation of the amount of cortisol and adrenaline produced by coffee causes an increase in the excitability of the subject who has consumed it. Although in some circumstances it may be favorable for carrying out apprenticeships or acting efficiently, At other times, this increase generates a stress higher than the individual is able to handle , can appear anxiety reactions.

In fact, the consumption of caffeine is not recommended for stressed individuals or with disorders linked to anxiety.

3. Agitation, tachypsychia and logorrhea

Although the increase in activation produced by coffee may be desirable at low doses, in higher amounts caffeine can cause the presence of agitation, tremors (and even epileptic seizures) .

The presence of tachypsychia or accelerated thinking can also occur at a cognitive level, in which there frequently appears to be a flight of ideas or losses of the thread of thought. Another common symptom is logorrhea.

4. Stress and irritability

Increased activation in the nervous system and slightly more expansive mood than usual , as well as the increase in the level of stress generated by coffee, cause that sometimes the person who has consumed caffeine has a tendency to be aggressive or irritable to stimuli that would not generally be aversive.

5. Cardiac effects

Nor is it recommended to consume caffeine for people with heart disorders , since it can induce tachycardias and arrhythmias that in people with a certain level of life and with certain pathologies could lead to a heart attack or even cardiorespiratory arrest.

6. Risk of death

Although a high quantity is usually necessary, the consumption of amounts exceeding ten grams of caffeine can induce epileptic seizures, or cardiorespiratory problems that could end up with the death of the patient .

7. Withdrawal syndrome

It has also been discussed that caffeine can, With prolonged and frequent consumption over time, get to produce withdrawal syndrome . This syndrome results in the presence of excessive sleepiness, nausea and vomiting, anxiety and / or depression after abandonment or abrupt reduction of consumption.

8. Other aspects

The elevation of the mood and the high level of activity that can produce in some people the consumption of caffeine makes it not suitable for people with certain characteristics . For example, in mood disorders (for example during manic episodes in the case of a bipolar disorder) or in psychotic disorders.

Bibliographic references:

  • American Psychiatric Association. (2013).Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
  • Glade, M. J. (2010). Caffeine - not just a stimulant. Nutrition, 26 (10), 932-938.
  • Macedo, J. (s.f.). Drinking coffee: advantages and disadvantages of its consumption. [Online] Available at: //yestherapyhelps.com/neurociencias/beber-cafe-advantages-advantages
  • Salazar, M .; Peralta, C .; Pastor, J. (2006). Manual of Psychopharmacology. Madrid, Panamericana Medical Publishing House.
  • Smith, A. (2002). Effects of caffeine on human behavior. Food and chemical toxicology, 40 (9), 1243-1255.

Why You Shouldn't Drink Caffeine After 2 P.M. (May 2022).


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