But First, we need to talk about Coffee


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(image credit: Limgvistov)

I’d like to think I’m not rude to people first thing in the morning. Most likely because I avoid any meaningful human interaction until I’ve inhaled my first cup of coffee, after which it pretty much becomes an extension of my right hand for the day.

For the first time in years, I’m reviewing my caffeine consumption after being inspired by the fertility boost a reduction in caffeine intake offered some patients suffering from subfertility.

Until recently, I felt my non-stop coffee consumption was a relatively harmless addiction.  Observing the growing numbers addicted to coffee (and other forms of caffeine), I’m assuming I wasn’t alone. Consumed at work and at your granny’s house and in other mundane settings, we forget that caffeine is the world’s most popular psychoactive substance by a country mile.

 

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(image credit: Lingvistov)

In the short-term, the cup of get-shit-done revs you up to, ahem, get shiz done. We’ve all seen the ‘no coffee, no workee’ memes. Caffeine results in the release of stores of sugar and in the production of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol by the adrenal glands. (The adrenal glands are tiny glands that sit atop your kidneys and produce hormones that help control heart rate, blood pressure, levels of sodium and potassium and hormones involved in stress reactions, among other things.) Ideal if you’re about to sit an exam, flee a house fire or race to Olympic gold. But do we really need to be in fight-or-flight mode all day, e’er day?

With the dearth of lions and tigers to fight, your short charge of alertness will invariably be replaced with a rather uninviting combination of agitation and exhaustion. You’ll then reach for your next cup. And as your tolerance climbs, your next cup and your next… The vicious cycle perpetuates itself resulting in cycles of jitters and a racing mind and disturbed sleep. Then you’ll have to drink more coffee to counteract your consequent exhaustion!

But how does the vicious circle begin? And how does caffeine produce that alert feeling that we crave? And why is it chemically addictive?

First and foremost, a good coffee is delicious. That’s how it started for me anyway! Who hasn’t been lured into a café by the alluring aroma of freshly roasted cawfee? After a habit emerges, altered brain chemistry perpetuates our cravings…

Caffeine is structurally very similar to adenosine, a naturally occurring molecule in the brain which plays a vital role in innumerable biochemical processes. Caffeine makes itself at home on the brain’s adenosine receptors, effectively sealing them off. When caffeine is not on the scene, adenosine results in a feeling of tiredness. When caffeine usurps these receptors a sense of alertness is perpetuated for several hours. Furthermore, some natural stimulants such as dopamine (a transmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres) work synergistically with caffeine to augment its effect. Think of it an enabler of natural stimulants. The effect lasts from 4-6 hours depending on several variables such as age and body mass which affect metabolism.

The chemistry and structure of the brain modify themselves over time in those of us who capitalise on this process all day every day. The brain increases its numbers of adenosine receptors in an attempt to maintain equilibrium which is why habitual coffee drinkers cultivate tolerance; when the numbers of adenosine receptors are increased, increased amounts of caffeine are required to block an adequate number of receptors in order to exert the desired ‘alert’ effect. This also explains the withdrawal phenomenon: the brain’s chemistry is thrown off kilter when a caffeine addict decides to go cold turkey.

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(image credit: Lingvistov)

Even a low/moderate daily caffeine intake (say 400ml of moderate-strength coffee) can induce tolerance and result in withdrawal symptoms (irritability, fatigue, headache) which can take 1-2 weeks to subside. During this time, the brain gradually reduces its numbers of adenosine receptors. If you’re consuming sufficient quantities of caffeine to develop withdrawal symptoms, chances are you’re fatiguing your adrenal glands and need to cool the jets on your consumption.

But, hold up, it’s not all bad…

‘There is certainly much more good news than bad news, in terms of coffee and health,’ according to Frank Hu, nutrition and epidemiology professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. An expanding body of research shows that coffee drinkers are less likely to develop adult-onset diabetes (as it appears to improve the body’s sensitivity to insulin), Parkinson’s disease and dementia and fewer cases of certain cancers (such as those of the liver and womb), certain heart rhythm problems and stroke. We must bear in mind that these studies don’t demonstrate cause and effect as those studied were merely questioned about their coffee consumption habits so it’s possible coffee drinkers have other confounding advantages such as healthier lifestyles or better genes. But the mounting evidence is robust enough for yours truly!

The health benefits of coffee are attributed to its antioxidants- nutrients that help prevent tissue damage. They are the body’s ‘cleaners’ as they oxidise free radicals to form harmless substances which can then be eliminated from the body. Roasted coffee is much more antioxidant-rich than non-roasted so be picky when you’re picking!

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Enotica Torino, one of the best coffee fixes in Dublin 8!

 

I plan on moderating my caffeine intake by incorporating (caffeine-free) herbal teas and premium-quality decaffeinated coffee into my daily routine. However, I don’t want to miss out on all of the aforementioned health perks! With this in mind, my intention is to banish the (many) crap coffees I consume throughout the day. Instead, I’ll enjoy a one top-notch coffee most days of the week. Treat yo’self!

 

P.S. If you’d like to read more, visit skipthescript.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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skipthescript

My name is Michelle and I’m a Dublin-based GP (family doctor). Life is short: take the minimalist approach to maximise your health!

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