I don’t know about you, but my day doesn’t start properly until I’ve had my morning latte. Of course, there are a few reasons for this, some of which are purely psychological, writes Integrative Health Expert and Clinical Psychologist, Leanne Hall.
I associate it with “thinking” time, or I use my sipping time to catch up with friends. However, there are also some neurological reasons to explain the kick start that comes with that morning coffee.
But before you go and order your decaf, soy cappuccino – the ingredient we are referring to here is caffeine itself. So out with the decaf in with the double shot!
What happens to our brain when we consume caffeine?
Subjectively, we all know that caffeine makes us feel more alert and awake, which is why having a coffee a couple of hours before bed is generally not a good idea. But what exactly does this stuff do to our brain?
Firstly, it’s a stimulant. But it also works by blocking a neurotransmitter called adenosine, which is a chemical that makes you feel sleepy. When our adenosine receptors are blocked, other brain chemicals are stimulated such as dopamine, serotonin and glutamate.
All of these chemicals are involved in making us feel really good, happy and excited. It’s no wonder that we feel pretty fabulous after that coffee!
Is caffeine good for the brain?
Let’s clear up one important thing. The effects of caffeine are relatively subtle when compared to other stimulants. As such, contrary to what some people believe, it doesn’t make your brain “wired”. All it does is block one particular neurotransmitter.
And here is where things get interesting. Studies have shown that enjoying your daily coffee causes a surge in energy, and increases cognitive performance and concentration (due to natural increases in glutamate). Combine this with an increase in serotonin and the result is better performance AND a more positive mood.
Also, caffeine can help to relieve migraines and headaches because it constricts blood vessels in the brain that are opening too wide.
Finally, more recent research has shown that moderate and regular caffeine consumption can reduce the risk of age-related cognitive impairment, which is a precursor to Alzheimer’s.
What this means is that your daily coffee may have neuroprotective effects. So enjoying your coffee while doing that crossword may be two of the best things you can do to protect your brain from age-related dementia.
So how much caffeine is enough, and what is too much?
Studies show that moderate and regular consumption of coffee is enough to experience th health benefits of coffee - the positive neurological effects of caffeine. This amounts to around 1-2 cups per day.
Drinking anywhere from four or more cups per day can in fact have the opposite effect – increasing anxiety, causing heart palpitations, short term memory problems, not to mention physiological dependence and addiction.
So while too much is clearly not in the interests of good health, a good quality coffee each day can certainly be enjoyed right alongside that green smoothie…. completely guilt free!
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