How complicated it can be to start the day without a cup of coffee for many people. Even, sometimes, it seems that just smelling its aroma begins to clear up. And it is not only its smell, but also its flavor that generates that sensation of pleasure, in addition to fulfilling a very specific function: to stimulate alert and attention systems. Now, what are the effects of caffeine on the brain? Why are some people more sensitive to coffee?
At a chemical level, caffeine is a molecule that functions as a brain emitter and blocks adenosine, a substance that makes us experience the sensation of tiredness. In this way, when we drink coffee we feel activated. And the fact is that caffeine, present in coffee and also in tea and slightly modified cocoa, is capable not only of activating our brain, but also of improving our sense of humor.
Now, officially, caffeine is considered a drug -more of use than of abuse-, since it is capable of generating dependency. At the neurobiological level, it can modify the state of consciousness and the quality of certain thoughts and actions. However, taken in moderation does not pose a serious risk to health.
Although most people drink coffee for pleasure, others consume it for different reasons. Some of them are the following:
- Activation or increase of alert level.
- Prolongation of alert time – especially in work and academic contexts.
- Increase in the ability to concentrate
- Increase in brute force – can help develop more muscle strength per unit of time.
- Improvement in mood – caffeine has slight antidepressant properties.
- As a dietary component, for its satiating capacity.
- As a diuretic or inducer of intestinal activity, in view of its influence on the autonomic nervous system.
- As a hypertensive, since it can raise the arterial blood pressure.
- In the field of beauty and cosmetics, as a component of products that, above all, make use of the decongestive properties of caffeine.
- To relieve pain, as a mild analgesic.
In any case, and although its use in small doses is relatively safe, it is recommended that it not be used for health-related issues without prior consultation with a health specialist.
What effects does caffeine have on the brain?
Caffeine is a stimulant drug that exerts different effects on the brain. These not only affect the cognitive processing capacity, but also manifest at the psychological level.
This substance, in addition to blocking the adenosine receptors, is interrelated with other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, noradrenaline, and acetylcholine, which are generally involved in cognition and emotion.
Effects of caffeine on cognition or mental performance
Certain cognitive abilities tend to increase their efficiency due to the influence of caffeine. Some of them are the following:
- The response times.
- The degree of alertness and vigil.
- The general quality of mental information processing.
- The supervision of tasks and the detection of errors.
However, using caffeine as a strategy to improve mental performance is not a good idea. There is no study that has demonstrated a quantitatively significant difference.
In addition, it has not been proven that higher doses of caffeine imply an improvement in mental efficiency. In fact, there is a limit in the amount of intake of the substance from which no cognitive improvement is observed. To this we must add the incipient anxiety that it probably generates and the possible withdrawal syndrome that may develop if excessive consumption is reached.
On the other hand, the action of caffeine includes an important component of placebo: if a coffee drinker expects a certain increase in performance, but this does not happen, he can try to overcompensate by striving to achieve that performance. Obviously, the end result will be an increase in performance that can be attributed to the caffeine itself.
Effects of caffeine on mood
As we said earlier, caffeine increases the level of alertness. And, precisely, is that feeling of activation what for many people, it is an incentive for how well they feel at a given moment. In fact, some claim that under the effects of caffeine they experience a greater sense of task accomplishment.
But as can occur with other activating substances, caffeine tends to produce, secondarily, an increase in anxiety. This effect could counteract any transient mood improvement caused by coffee consumption.
In general, the impact of caffeine on mood is somewhat related to expectations, that is, how it is expected to influence and the context in which the intake of caffeine occurs.
Thus, for some clinical and research professionals, the greatest positive effect that caffeine can cause in an individual is not so much to counteract the lack of energy, but to alleviate the symptoms of a kind of withdrawal syndrome, after a prolonged time without consume the substance.
This position, however, has not been validated scientifically; although experience indicates that the mood of an individual can be improved by taking caffeine regardless of the time since the last coffee intake.