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15 November 2016

Caffeine and its effect on your central nervous system

You’ll find caffeine in coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks… but how does it affect our central nervous system?

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Caffeine, or 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine as it’s known scientifically, is one of the most popular stimulants in the world – it’s found everywhere and remains unregulated. But before you reach for that third or fourth cup of coffee of the day, read on to find out how it affects your central nervous system.  

It’s a stimulant

If you absolutely need a cup of coffee to start your day, take a moment to understand how it affects your body. You take a sip, and as the caffeine enters your bloodstream it quickly travels to the brain, acting as a central nervous system stimulant.

The effects, such as feeling more awake, are noticeable in as little as 15 minutes. Caffeine has also been known to increase mental alertness and cognitive functioning, as well as enhancing physical performance by improving endurance and reaction time.

Read: Is coffee sabotaging your diet?

So how does it work? Caffeine is able to mimic a neurochemical in your brain called adenosine, which is produced by neurons throughout the day. Your nervous system monitors adenosine levels and as it increases, your body starts to slow down, preparing you for the evening when you need to sleep.

Caffeine latches onto the receptors in your brain for adenosine and pushes them out the way – with the result that we’re more alert and awake.

Read: Students with ADHD more likely to misuse stimulant drugs

Can you overdose on caffeine?

Before you laugh that off as being preposterous, it is actually possible to overdose on caffeine, and symptoms include confusion and hallucinations. According to a caffeine calculator designed by Caffeine Informer, if you weigh 60 kg, you should have a maximum of 2,2 cups of coffee a day (based on a 236 ml serving).

Consume 55.4 cups and you’ll overdose and die! So, the good news is you probably won’t die from drinking too much coffee – but beware of energy drinks that contain high concentrations of caffeine and are easier to chug down in quick succession.

The Mayo Clinic recommends about 400 mg of caffeine per day for healthy adults. So like everything in life, moderation is key.

If you’re not used to drinking coffee, you are also at risk of some side effects such as feeling shaky. If you suffer from an anxiety or sleep disorder, it’s probably a good idea to steer clear of caffeine.

Read: Types of sleeping disorders

Can I suffer from withdrawal symptoms?

Yes! Because caffeine is a stimulant it will affect your body negatively if you suddenly stop consuming it. You can expect to feel anxious, irritable and drowsy. The good news is that the side effects are temporary.

Read more:

Busting the myths about caffeine

Daily caffeine may not push up your heart beat

Are you high on caffeine?


 

 
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