Tuesday, September 21

What are the effects of caffeine on the brain?


Excessive caffeine consumption can affect the quality of sleep, which leads to various disorders in brain function.

Foto:
Gary Barnes / Pexels

Many people around the world do not visualize the idea of ​​starting the day without a good cup of coffee and the reason is of course their powerful stimulating effect which is directly related to its caffeine content. It’s about the The most widely used psychoactive drug in the world, largely due to its stimulating effects on mood and energy levels. Despite widespread use, few people really know how caffeine works in the body and even more interesting in the brain.

The initial effects of caffeine put the body under stress, cause blood pressure to rise, and speed up the heartbeat. As is common in stressful states, they allow us to perform better in a relatively short period of time. That is why coffee and other caffeinated beverages are consumed daily by the tons around the world.

The first thing you need to understand is the effect of drowsiness caused by adenosine and its role in brain function. You could say that it is a substance that acts like a key and opens a variety of receptors in the brain. Adenosine has the ability to block various receptors in the brain. One of the most relevant is the A1 which promotes muscle relaxation and drowsinessIn fact, it is the reason why we feel more tired as the day progresses. Furthermore, adenosine can bind to the A2A receptor and when this happens, it interferes with the release of neurotransmitters that improve mood, as is the case with dopamine. It is most interesting to know that adenosine itself is produced mainly by physical activity and intensive use of the brain. Therefore, throughout the day, the body naturally accumulates adenosine. The most relevant thing is that Adenosine is one of the most popular sleep regulatory molecules. It is located in the central nervous system, which is why it regulates sleep as the day ends.

What does caffeine do in the brain?

Every morning when I wake up, the body has metabolized adenosine molecules. It is true that it is normal to feel a little slow, we are finally waking up and that is why most people depend on effects of caffeine in the form of beverages such as coffee, especially at the beginning of the day. What happens after consuming it is that it is absorbed in the small intestine in about an hour and is thus available in the blood and most of the body, including the brain.

When caffeine enters the brain, it begins to compete with adenosine and prevents it from binding to A1 receptors. This is the typical effect that activates the feeling of wakefulness, that is, the state of staying more active and awake. The above explanation leads us to understand why long-term caffeine is usually a direct cause of various sleep disorders, especially when consumed in the afternoon. Lack of sleep ends up affecting the state of the brain’s gray matterBased on this, experts have concluded that caffeine could ultimately cause brain damage due to its negative effects on sleep quality.

Coffee wakes us up, but it takes its toll

A recent study indicates that the action of caffeine on the brain may be direct. This is suggested by the research team led by Dr. Caroline Reichert and Professor Christian Cajochen, from the University of Basel (Switzerland), who dedicated themselves to examine the caffeine-brain connection. The result they came up with was quite interesting: caffeine doesn’t actually lead to poor sleep, but it can compromise the brain and cause changes in gray matter. The results of the study were published in mid-February 2021 in the specialized journal Cerebral Cortex.

As relevant data it is worth mentioning that the gray matter of the brain it consists in particular of the cell nuclei of nerve cells, which are also known colloquially as “small gray cells.” On the other hand, the white matter consists of the cellular extensions of the nerve cells, that is, the nerve fibers.

The Swiss study involved 20 healthy young people who normally drank coffee every day. In order to standardize consumption during the study, the participants received caffeine capsules for 10 days (150 mg, three times a day) and placebo capsules for an additional 10 days. It is important to mention that during the period of time that the study lasted, the participants were not supposed to drink coffee (only the capsules). At the end of each 10-day period, scientists examined gray matter of the participants through brain scans and also were given the task of checking the quality of sleep with the help of an electroencephalogram.

Among the most relevant results, they noted clear differences in gray matter. That is, after the 10-day placebo phase, the gray matter volume was greater than after the caffeine phase. Another most interesting finding is that the difference was particularly clear in the temporal lobe, where the hippocampus is located, a region of the brain that is important for so-called memory consolidation. It is a process that takes place mainly at night during deep sleep.

Therefore, one of the main conclusions of the researchers is that daily caffeine consumption affects cognitive operation and specifically memory. The good news is that the study found that after 10 days of caffeine withdrawal the brain recovers significantly. That is why they concluded that possible brain damage caused by caffeine only appears to be temporary. A good recommendation to limit caffeine intake is to drink coffee with caution, avoid those drinks enriched with caffeine and go for substitutes such as herbal teas, tea and flavored waters.

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