What is caffeine?
Technically, caffeine is a chemical compound with the formula C8H10N4O2. Caffeine also goes by the chemical name Methyltheobromine. It is also the world’s most consumed psychoactive drug (but it’s legal pretty much everywhere!). What classifies it as a drug? A few things, but mostly the fact that it blocks the action of adenosine, which promotes sleep, therefore it reduces drowsiness and gives us that awesome wide awake feeling we all know and love! Let’s take a look at some of caffeine’s pro’s and con’s.
While giving us some instant energy doesn’t sound like a bad thing, caffeine can come with some downsides. Namely, a mild form of drug dependence (trust me, nothing like what you’d see on Breaking Bad though). If you’ve been drinking coffee for a while, you already know this. One cup used to rev you up in the morning and keep you going through out the day. Then it started wearing off and you cranked it up to two cups a day. Then three… We also call this building up a tolerance.
If you drink coffee (or any other caffeine-heavy drink) then you’ll also experience some bad news when you don’t have it. Withdrawal symptoms are usually sleepiness, headaches, irritability, functioning below normal, and unable to take your mind off your next cup of coffee! While there hasn’t been much definitive evidence, it is advised that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding reduce their caffeine intake to less than 300mg (a typical cup of coffee has 100-150mg).
Caffeine doesn’t replace our need for sleep, but actually just masks our drowsiness symptoms by binding to the adenosine receptors in our brains. When adenosine binds to these receptors, it signals to our brain that we need rest. The caffeine molecule then blocks the adenosine from binding and hides our need for rest. Think of adenosine being a basketball but the hoop is being blocked by a beach ball, which would be caffeine.
Caffeine has the wonderful upside of giving us energy, helping us to wake up, and, if you consume it via coffee, tasting delicious! This chemical compound has also been used in the medical field to help treat or prevent things such as premature infant breathing disorders, Parkinson’s disease, coronary artery disease, and stroke. It has the bonus of increasing our basal metabolic rate, which means that we burn more calories just breathing and living. Increased reaction time, deep focus, and wakefulness are common side effects of caffeine use.
Where can caffeine be found?
Caffeine naturally occurs in coffee, tea, cocoa beans, yerba mate, guarana berries, and dozens of other plants. Teas that are labeled ‘caffeine-free’ are usually made from herbs or other plants, this is why they don’t contain caffeine. On the other hand, coffee that is labeled ‘decaf’ comes from the same bean as regular coffee. The difference is that it undergoes a decaffeination process. There are several ways to do this, the most common being a chemical wash. However, this process doesn’t remove all of the caffeine. Decaffeination leaves decaf coffee with 10-40% of the caffeination of the original coffee. So if you’re trying to avoid it completely, be wary of decaf!
Caffeine is great, a little addictive, but overall not harmful. It is found in many places, one of the most common and our favorite is coffee. Remember, it doesn’t get rid of your need to sleep, just masks it. Whether you drink coffee at home, your local coffee shop, or in your car, take a minute to appreciate the awesome benefits of that little chemical compound ‘caffeine.’