Does Coffee Jolt Our Brains or Is It All in Our Heads?

by Amanda Gordon


Coffee is the sweet nectar that gets work done.
(Photo: Amanda M. Gordon)

It’s just a few minutes after noon and you feel your eyes drooping. You’re never going to make it through your next class without a pick me up, so you head over to one of the cafes on campus to grab a cup of coffee. You feel like you can take on the day with the caffeine in your system, but does coffee actually help or is this just a placebo effect?

As an avid coffee drinker since my freshman year of high school, I’m going to vouch for America’s most used drug and say that it does indeed help us stay awake.

According to a study by the Institute of Pharmacology and Neurosciences within the University of Lisbon, “caffeine causes most of its biological effects via antagonizing all types of adenosine receptors”(ARs). Caffeine is a chemical that affects the brain by blocking the chemical adenosine, which the body produces daily to inhibit healthy sleep patterns. The cells in the body can’t tell the difference between the two chemicals, so when caffeine enters our system, the cells bind the stimulant to a receptor that would normally be used for the chemical that aids sleep, which causes the opposite intended action for said receptor.

The brain’s nervous system will take notice to the cells speeding up rather than slowing down. Tricked yet again, our bodies release adrenaline, perceiving that there is an emergency at hand.

That’s right, our brain kicks on the ‘fight or flight’ hormone when given coffee. Remember that last cup of coffee you had? Did your heart race a little, maybe you felt a little tense or your breathing rate pick up? That’s the caffeine hitting your system.

Is its effectiveness exaggerated though? Some may perceive that coffee is more of comforting assist than the life giving nectar others view it as.

“I feel like it’s part of your daily routine,” said WCC Student Tommy Green (who prefers mango black tea over coffee). Green recognized that caffeine does help people stay alert, but referenced that it is a comforting way to start the day with a cup of coffee.

“My dad usually drinks coffee first thing in the morning,” Green said.

According to the same study there is “a consensus that the beneficial effects most of us feel after a few cups of coffee or tea are due to the actions of these psychoactive substances upon ARs”, because of the other effects that coffee induce, like improving cognition and memory.

When reviewed, the scientific report found that there are “positive actions of caffeine on information processing and performance” which “might also be attributed to improvement of behavioural routines.”

So, whether coffee is a drug that tricks the brain into thinking that I am in peril, a chemical that assists my brain to higher functioning levels, or just a sweet comfort that just makes me feel a little less exhausted, it’s still going to be the first thing that I go looking for when I wake up in the morning.

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