Everyone is at least dimly aware of the presence of caffeine in their coffee. Coffee is the most popular drink in the world, an industry which grosses $10 billion a year and enjoys the lofty status as the second most traded commodity in the world, behind oil. Coffee was at the heart of catalysing colonialism and coffee makers still drive an enormous amount of commerce to this day. The apparatus for brewing the stuff – either a kettles or household coffee machines – find a place in every kitchen.
But how much does the average person actually know about caffeine? Caffeine is a drug, a stimulant to be precise. It is highly, highly addictive and shares many of the same traits as cocaine or heroin. It is only the lack of serious, pronounced effects that are exhibited by the other drugs that separates it. Caffeine users develop a physical addiction and suffer withdrawal headaches when deprived of a morning coffee.
Caffeine works like the other drugs mentioned – it alters your brain chemistry. The brains structure comprises of various receptors for chemical messengers, which respond to signals in order to inform certain body processes. Sleep in the brain is partially controlled by a chemical messenger called adenosine, which slows down a cells processes, causing drowsiness and ultimately, sleep. Adenosine is produced in the brain and floods the area, binding to adenosine receptors, slowing down the cells and bringing the brain into a sleep state. To these nerve cells, caffeine is indistinguishable from adenosine and binds with it readily. However, caffeine does not slow the cells down – it speeds them up. The caffeine occupies all vacant adenosine receptors, inhibiting sleep and speeding the brains process up, promoting neuron firing and speeding mental processes. The pituitary gland – a producer of these chemical messengers and hormones, to regulate function, responds to this increased activity by secreting more adrenaline. Adrenalins effects are well known – raised heartbeat, muscles primed, airways opened; ready for action in short.
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