All About Caffeine
Caffeine is found naturally in many plants such as coffee beans, tea leaves, cocoa beans, guarana and cola nuts. People have enjoyed food and beverages containing caffeine for thousands of years. Today, caffeine is the world’s most popular drug and is found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola drinks, energy drinks and guarana products.
Caffeine is a stimulant which makes the central nervous system (CNS) speed up the messages to and from the brain. This produces a condition of wakefulness and increased mental activity. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system by blocking adenosine, a neurotransmitter that normally cause a feeling of fatigue. This alters the uptake of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, acetylcholine, serotonin and adrenaline resulting in an increase of mental and physical performance.
It’s no wonder that the introduction of caffeine to western civilisation in the seventeenth century created considerable excitement amongst scholars and intellectuals, but today we take the benefits of caffeine for granted.
During the day when your brain is awake and active it creates a chemical called adenosine. Adenosine binds to adenosine receptor and this action of binding causes nerve cell activity to slow down and creates a feeling of drowsiness.
Caffeine is also able to bind to the adenosine receptors but it doesn’t slow down the nerve cell activity like adenosine does. The reduction in adenosine activity increases nerve cell activity and increases wakefulness.
Since the effect of caffeine wears off after a couple of hours, it is better to have small more frequent doses of caffeine to cover the adenosine receptors rather than one large dose that may give you the jitters.
The scientific history of caffeine began in 1819 when the chemical caffeine was first isolated from coffee. Since then caffeine has been widely researched. It has now been proven that it is a potent stimulant of the central nervous system whereby it can produce a condition of wakefulness and increased mental activity. These are some of the remarkable benefits of caffeine:
- Caffeine increases the capacity to accomplish more.
- Caffeine improves speed and accuracy of abstract reasoning.
- Caffeine helps you stay alert and wide awake.
Benefit - Caffeine can increase alertness
levels and help you study.
The Evidence – Caffeine has been shown to increase thinking speed and to decrease the frequency of errors. Reaction time tests have found that caffeine improves reaction time. Caffeine has also been shown to improve vigilance, i.e. the ability to pay attention for a long period of time.
Caffeine can help reduce the post-lunch afternoon slump and help keep
The Evidence - When given a vigilance test without caffeine, the subjects in one study suffered declines in speed and accuracy after eating. Giving them caffeine produced a much greater improvement after lunch.
Benefit - Caffeine can help improve
wakefulness if you need to stay awake late.
The Evidence – A study showed that caffeine was useful in sustaining wakefulness and reducing sleepiness. It was as beneficial as having a nap.
Benefit - Caffeine can help
The Evidence – By combating the symptoms of fatigue and lack of sleep, caffeine brings shift workers up to speed at their jobs by making them as alert and quick to respond as they are during the day. A study in experienced shift workers who were tested between 11pm and 8am proved that caffeine significantly improved job performance.
Benefit - Caffeine can
help you stay awake and alert if you are suffering from jet lag.
The Evidence – Experts recommend that you should taper off caffeine before a long flight and then stay awake the entire first day going to bed around 10pm (local time). Caffeine can help keep your mind alert for your first few days in a new time zone.
Caffeine has been used by many cultures for thousands of years and has a long and fascinating history.
- Anthropologists believe that early Stone Age men chewed the seeds and leaves of plants containing caffeine.
- The Chinese emperor Shen Nung described drinking tea to lessen the desire for sleep in his medical records dated 2737 BC.
- According to legend, coffee was discovered in Africa in the sixth or seventh century when Kaldi, an Ethiopian goat herder noticed the energising effects on his flock after nibbling on the bean-like seeds of certain shrubs.
- Eleventh century Arabian manuscripts describe making a drink they called “qahwa” which is believed to be the root of our word “coffee”.
- Spanish conquistadors were served chocolate by the Aztecs in sixteenth century but it is believed that Mayans were the first to cultivate cacao (a tropical tree producing a seed from which cocoa and chocolate are made) plantations from 1000 BC making them very wealthy.
- Seeds and leaves of plants containing caffeine were so valued that they were used as currency in Egypt, Tibet, China, Africa and South America.
- Coffee and tea were introduced to Europe in the seventeenth century and soon after, the first coffee houses began to appear in London and Paris.
- Coffee houses quickly became the meeting place of scholars and writers who frequented them to partake in lively caffeine stimulated conversation.
- The Oxford Coffee Club, founded in 1650, was the beginning of the Royal Society, which is one of the leading scientific societies in the world.
- In the late 1800’s Coca-Cola, the world’s first caffeinated soft drink, was produced and was first sold as tonic syrup in pharmacies.
The approximate amount of caffeine found in coffee, tea, chocolate, cola, energy drinks, guarana and caffeine tablets is shown in the linked table. No-Doz and No-Doz Plus are caffeine tablets that help relieve mental fatigue, drowsiness and general inertia, keeping you bright and alert! A benefit of taking No-Doz tablets is that you know exactly how much caffeine you are actually getting without a lot of additional calories.