Well, the answer to this question is a bit tricky. Some will claim that they need three cups of coffee in the morning in order to start functioning well, others will limit their consumption to one cup a day and some will consume this substance anytime… I personally limit my coffee intake to one cup, in the morning around 11 am, after my 15/16 hours fasting along with a substantial brunch. What is your magical coffee formula?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. But this blog will help you decide how much coffee is right for you, taking into account its chemistry, benefits, addictive effects, and some simple advice to control this powerful stimulant.
How does coffee affect us?
Let’s rewind 40 years… I am 15 years of age, on holidays in Spain with my aunt Maruja. I had just demolished a huge plate of delicious homemade paella. I felt packed. For the first time, I was offered an expresso coffee. Feeling like a grown-up, I was delighted, added sugar, stirred it a few times, smelt it (just to copy the adults) and swallowed it in one go. To this day I can still remember the whole experience, the social acceptance, the wonderful aroma, the bitter taste, but especially the massive rush of energy that invaded my whole body. This was the start of my relationship with caffeine, with its ups and downs.
Caffeine is both water and fat-soluble, which means it can easily cross the blood-brain barrier. Caffeine acts on a chemical produced by your brain, called adenosine. According to neurologist Ajay Sampat, M.D., “Adenosine is like a sleep-inducing molecule that your brain makes while you’re awake. The longer you’re awake, the more adenosine you have in your system.”
The molecular structure of caffeine closely resembles that of adenosine. When we consume caffeine, it binds to adenosine receptors in the brain, blocking its effects, with the side benefit of allowing dopamine to flow more freely. That can bring on feelings of well-being, energy and alertness. With its receptors constantly occupied by caffeine, the body has to produce more adenosine to make you feel tired. To a nerve cell, caffeine looks just like adenosine, but caffeine doesn’t slow down cellular activity as adenosine does, instead it speeds it up. So in time, you need more and more caffeine to bind to those new receptors and block the effects of adenosine.
Caffeine also causes increased neuron firing in your brain, releases hormones that tell your adrenal glands to produce adrenaline (epinephrine), a “fight or flight” hormone.
Caffeine also affects dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates pleasure centres in certain parts of your brain and makes you feel good…
An important point to remember is that caffeine can stay in your system for up to 6 hours. This means that having a cup of coffee at 3 pm will still leave some caffeine roaming about your body until 9 pm. In the long run, this could affect your sleep quality, the body’s healing process, disrupt the learning or memory consolidation process and finally create a vicious cycle in which you crave yet more coffee the next day.
Why is drinking coffee good for you?
The benefits of coffee are undeniable, from superfood for the brain, performance enhancement, fat loss, and the reduction of heart disease and much more.
Many of the nutrients in coffee beans make their way into the finished brewed coffee.
A single cup of coffee contains:
- Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5)
- Manganese and potassium
- Magnesium and niacin (vitamin B3)
Some of most important benefits of a high quality coffee are:
- Can improve energy levels and make you smarter.
- Can help you burn fat: Caffeine is found in almost every commercial fat-burning supplement, and for good reason. It’s one of the few natural substances proven to aid fat burning.
- Can dramatically improve physical performance: Caffeine stimulates your nervous system, increases epinephrine (adrenaline) the fight-or-flight hormone, and prepares your body for intense physical exertion. Caffeine is a performance and endurance enhancer, it also strengthens muscle contraction, reduces the exerciser’s perception of pain, and increases fatty acids in the blood, which supports endurance.
- Can lower the risk of type II diabetes: Studies found that people who increased their coffee intake by over one cup per day had an 11 per cent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Researcher Kun Huang, PhD, a professor of biological pharmacy at the Huazhong University of Science & Technology claims to have found three compounds in coffee that seem to block the toxic accumulation of a protein linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. These three major coffee compounds can reverse this toxic process and may explain why coffee drinking is associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
- May protect you from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia: Alzheimer’s disease is the most common neurodegenerative disease and the leading cause of dementia worldwide. This condition usually affects people over 65. Several studies show that coffee drinkers have up to a 65% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
- May lower your risk of Parkinson’s: Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative condition, right behind Alzheimer’s. It is caused by the death of dopamine-generating neurons in your brain. Coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of Parkinson’s disease, with a risk reduction ranging from 32-60%.
- May protect your liver: Coffee drinkers have a much lower risk of cirrhosis, which can be caused by several diseases that affect the liver.
- Can help you fight depression: Caffeine blocks mood-depressing chemicals in the brain. As we have seen before, Caffeine blocks receptors in the brain from binding with a chemical (adenosine) that causes fatigue and depressed mood.
- May lower the risk of certain types of cancer: Cancer is characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in your body. Coffee appears to be protective against two types of cancer: liver and colorectal cancer.
- Increases Longevity: This is my favourite subject, I suppose all the previous benefits contribute to living a longer life with fewer diseases and a lower risk of premature death. Also, people in the Mediterranean blue zones are big fans of drinking coffee. So all these reasons are convincing enough for me.
Why is drinking coffee so addictive?
Caffeine is one of the world’s most popular drugs, by far. If you feel as though you cannot function in the morning without a cup of coffee to kick-start the day, you likely fall into the category of someone who has experienced addiction to caffeine. That was me 12 years ago… within 24 hours of trying to quit coffee, I would feel mentally foggy, with a lack of alertness, general muscle fatigue with no apparent reason, and a vague sense of irritability. Over time a throbbing headache would set in, nausea and other flu-like symptoms making it very difficult to concentrate and to function properly.
Soon after you drink your coffee, it gets absorbed by the small intestine and dissolved in the bloodstream. As we have seen before, it enters the blood-brain barrier and tightly binds to the adenosine molecule. With these receptors blocked, the brain works overtime to produce some of the body’s own natural stimulants, dopamine and adrenaline. So regular coffee drinkers build up a tolerance over time, they produce more adenosine receptors, and in turn require more caffeine to block a significant proportion of them and achieve the desired effect.
The good news is that compared to many drug addictions, the effects are relatively short-term. To kick this habit, you only need to get through about 7-12 days of symptoms without drinking any caffeine.
How to drink coffee wisely?
- Keep coffee consumption within safe limits: Too much caffeine can cause jitteriness and anxiety and have profound effects on sleep and quality of sleep, and can also cause stomach upset in some people. So the recommendations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the American Medical Association (AMA) are to consider 300 milligrams (around two cups of coffee) the upper limit of a moderate daily dose, more than 600 milligrams on any given day ( around four cups of coffee) every day of the year, can very likely be categorized as an addiction.
- Delay having coffee for at least an hour after you wake in the morning. Soon after waking, your body produces cortisol, a natural energy booster, so save your coffee breaks for mid-morning or the early afternoon, when cortisol levels dip, advises Dartmouth University neuroscientist Steven Miller, PhD. However, Caffeine can interfere with sleep when consumed six hours before bedtime, reducing sleep by an hour and interfering with sleep efficiency and REM patterns. So it is wise not to consume coffee after 3 pm if you are planning to sleep around 9 pm.
- If you don’t habitually drink coffee, consider drinking it only when you really need a functional boost, such as working late at night.
- Consume caffeine before exercise as it is effective in increasing alertness especially for your morning workout or before an endurance athletics performance. The sweet spot tends to be no more than 2 cups of coffee prior to the workout or race.
- It is important to give the body a bit of time after caffeine consumption, say about an hour, before starting a workout or race. Just monitor its effects on your own body, since those will be highly individual, especially how your GI tract reacts to the coffee intake.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Back: Despite its benefits, caffeine is still a substance with side effects, especially if you have a sensitive stomach or cardiovascular issues. So cutting back or giving up caffeine altogether may lead to a better quality of life.
In the last 40 years of coffee adoration, I have had to quit this habit several times. My longest spell with no coffee was 3 years. Now, I have one cup a day and tend to give it up for at least a week every 2 months. This works for me.
I think from a longevity point of view caffeine in moderation is a wonderful substance, with many benefits for our mind and body. I will definitely drink this poison for many years to come. I hope this helps you to find out for yourself what are the best ways to intake caffeine.
What is your experience of drinking coffee?
Take care my friends, until next week.
Smart Living To 100.
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