Caffeine is a psychoactive compound that promotes mental alertness and removes feelings of drowsiness. Historians suggest that caffeine was consumed as far back as 2737 BC when Chinese Emperor Shen Nung boiled drinking water and leaves from a nearby bush, creating a pleasant aroma and the first pot of tea. It is evident that when centuries of use of a specific product are recorded, there must be something special to it.
The goal of caffeine is to block the action of a neurotransmitter known as adenosine – a compound responsible for stimulating the inhibitory pathways in the central nervous system.
Additionally, caffeine increases the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine increase, which boosts metabolism, improves performance, and reduces the risk of Parkinson’s disease.
In this article, we will cover the 5 key benefits of caffeine, as well as the content of caffeine in tea and coffee. But first, let us start by dissecting caffeine’s mechanisms of action.
How caffeine works
When you consume a caffeinated beverage, caffeine rapidly gets absorbed into the bloodstream. The next station would be the liver, where caffeine is metabolized into several compounds that exert different actions on various organs. However, the brain remains the primary site of action.
Caffeine works by blocking the effects of adenosine.
In general, the levels of adenosine increase during the day, which makes you feel increasingly tired and sleepy.
Therefore, it would make sense that blocking the action of this neurotransmitter produces the opposite effects. To block the physiological response to adenosine, caffeine will bind to its receptors without activating them.
Another action of caffeine is the upregulation of dopamine and norepinephrine (i.e., noradrenaline).
The combined action of blocking adenosine and stimulating the release of catecholamines will lead to:
- A state of arousal
- Increased focus
- Improved cognitive abilities
Interestingly, the action of caffeine takes a very short time before it kicks in. For instance, drinking one cup of coffee takes around 20 minutes to reach the blood and 60 minutes to become fully effective.
The 5 key benefits of caffeine
1. It improves physical performance
Caffeine stimulates your brain to increase energy levels and boost the process of burning fat.
It also promotes the release of epinephrine, which is the maestro of the fight or flight response.
Combining these effects, it should not come as a surprise that caffeine can boost your performance by 12%, on average.
2. It lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes is a serious public health problem that takes millions of lives every year.
The primary two mechanisms of type 2 diabetes are:
- Relative insulin deficiency
- Cellular resistance to the action of insulin
3. It protects against neurodegenerative ailments
Neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease) are prevalent illnesses that affect millions of people globally.
Generally, these disorders occur in individuals over the age of 65. Unfortunately, there is no definitive cure to address neurodegenerative illnesses.
It is for this reason that researchers are focusing on preventive measures to lower the risk of this illness.
Interestingly, caffeine seems to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. According to studies, people who regularly drink coffee may have a 65% risk reduction of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Besides neurodegenerative diseases, caffeine also slows down aging.
While aging is a natural process, the rate of these changes is usually slow and progressive, which is not always the case.
For instance, some patients experience unusual mental decline that negatively impacts their quality of life.
The good news is that caffeine may protect your neurons (i.e., brain cells) from oxidative damage.
Note that these studies are preliminary and more research is necessary.
4. Improves liver and colon health
Proponents of caffeine claim that this compound can be useful for the liver and colon by promoting the section of bile.
The theory states that caffeine stimulates the production of glutathione, which is a powerful antioxidant that detoxifies the colon and liver.
Furthermore, caffeine seems to lower the risk of liver damage and cirrhosis, which are common complications of hepatitis infections.
What’s more, studies found that caffeine may offer some protective benefits to patients with hepatocellular cancer.
5. It relieves pain
According to some research, caffeine may possess some analgesic properties that make it optimal to relieve pain caused by headaches.
In fact, many popular over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers contain caffeine, which could potentially boost their action by up to 40%.
Some people experience pain relief after consuming caffeine alone (without any painkillers).
Researchers believe that the potent anti-inflammatory properties of caffeine make it effective in relieving pain.
Therefore, next time you have a headache, do not forget to get some caffeine, along with your OTC painkiller (e.g., acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen).
Coffee Vs. Tea – caffeine content
Caffeine is a common ingredient in many beverages, including our two contestants – coffee and tea.
When it comes to content in caffeine, coffee contains twice the amount relative to tea. However, this is not always a good thing.
You see, the whole purpose of consuming caffeine is to provide your body with the energy it needs. Anything more, and you will start dealing with side effects, such as jitteriness, tachycardia (i.e., rapid heart rate), and insomnia.
Some studies showed that despite the difference in the amount of caffeine between coffee and tea, they both offer the same health benefits.
Caffeine is a powerful substance that can offer you a myriad of health benefits, especially when it comes to physical performance and mental sharpness.
We hope that this article helped you understand the benefits of caffeine and cleared out some commonly believed misconceptions.