Health and medicine

How does caffeine work? Learn about its properties

How does caffeine work? Learn about its properties
It takes approx. 5 minutes to read this article

For some, a daily dose of caffeine is a prerequisite for well-being, full of energy and productivity, for others – an ingredient in a drink primarily to make work or the start of the day more pleasant. Learn the secret of the world’s most popular stimulant and its properties – both those well-known and more surprising.

Properties and effects of caffeine

Caffeine is a chemical compound of plant origin, classified as a purine alkaloid. More than 60 plant species containing caffeine have been identified so far. Although it is mainly associated with coffee, extracted pure caffeine in its solid form does not resemble coffee at all – it has the form of a white, water-soluble powder with a bitter taste. Caffeine is mainly extracted from plants, but it can also be obtained by chemical synthesis.

A bit of neurobiology, or the stimulating effect of caffeine

Caffeine is a psychoactive substance; due to its mode of action, it is classified as a stimulant, i.e. a substance which has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system. From a neurobiological point of view, caffeine is an adenosine receptor antagonist, and this action results from chemical similarities between the two substances. What does this mean in practice? Caffeine molecules block adenosine receptors, which contributes to increased synaptic release of some neurotransmitters – acetylcholine, dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin. This in turn directly translates into stimulation of the nervous system, as well as accelerated heart rate and vasodilation.

Health benefits of caffeine

Small doses of caffeine will improve your memory and concentration, and support efficient work – both mental and physical. However, this is not the end of the beneficial effects of this alkaloid on the human body. Caffeine relieves pain and tension – that’s why you’ll find it among the active substances present in some painkillers. Studies show that regular coffee consumption can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as certain types of cancer.

For many years, coffee consumption has been demonized because of its effect on the body’s utilization of certain valuable components – most notably B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium. However, this concern is excessive – if a proper, balanced diet is maintained, providing the body with optimal amounts of these vitamins and minerals, drinking moderate amounts of coffee (up to 3 cups a day) will not result in their deficiency.

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Caffeine in cosmetology

It is worth knowing that the properties of caffeine can be perfectly used in the fight against cellulite. Numerous body lotions and emulsions, whose formulas were designed to reduce cellulite, have in their composition this valuable ingredient. It’s also a great idea to use coffee grounds yourself as a natural firming body scrub by mixing the grounds with a little olive oil and water or your favorite shower gel. And as an ingredient in scalp rubs and scrubs, caffeine effectively stimulates hair growth, thickening and strengthening it from the roots.

Caffeine in coffee

It is assumed that the caffeine content in a single serving of espresso (about 25-30 ml) is 40 mg. The amount of caffeine in a cup of black coffee will depend on a number of factors: the type of bean, the brewing time and method, or the form of coffee used to prepare the drink. A 200 ml cup of coffee can contain anywhere from 50 to 400 mg of caffeine. This refers to coffee brewed from natural, roasted and ground beans. In the case of drinks prepared with instant coffee, the caffeine content is even twice as low.

How much coffee is safe for the body? According to the recommendation of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an amount of caffeine of 5.7 mg/kg body weight in an adult is a safe daily dose that should not be associated with long-term adverse effects. For an adult weighing 70 kg, this dose would therefore be about 400 mg of caffeine per day. If you’re going to calculate your daily caffeine intake, also take into account its possible content in other products and drinks you consume.

Where else can you find caffeine?

Coffee beans are a rich, but not the only natural source of caffeine. Other sources of caffeine include cocoa, guarana and yerba mate – dried and ground leaves and twigs of the Paraguayan holly plant, which is used to prepare a stimulating drink that is becoming increasingly popular in Europe. Depending on its natural source, caffeine has several alternative names. The one contained in tea is called theine, the one in yerba mate is called mateine, and the one in guarana is called guaranine. Caffeine is also used as an additive in other drinks, including energy drinks and cola drinks.

Caffeine in tea

There is much less caffeine in tea than in coffee. A cup of black tea contains an average of 50-80 mg of caffeine, while green tea contains 30-50 mg. If for some reason you don’t like coffee, and you’re not satisfied with the caffeine content of tea, you can give yerba mate a try – in the case of these infusions, the caffeine content varies depending on the type of dried tea and how and when it’s brewed. With a little experience, you can almost freely manipulate the intensity of the drink’s stimulating properties.

Photo by Igor Haritanovich/Pexels

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