Caffeine is a close friend of many — whether you prefer your daily dose through coffee, tea or soda. But did you ever wonder what’s going on inside your body when you gurgle down your favorite caffeinated beverage? Here’s a look at what caffeine does to your brain and organs, and when to avoid it.
Your Brain on Caffeine
Your brain is made up of all kinds of tissues, cells and hormones working together to tell your body what to do. One of the most important players is the neurotransmitter, which are chemicals that relay information between nerve signals to regulate body processes.
When caffeine makes its way up to our brains, it forms a strange relationship with the chemical processes already taking place, especially the process that regulates sleepiness. Adenosine is one such chemical that when accumulated, will tell your body it’s time to rest. Adenosine is received by adenosine receptors in the brain, and since caffeine looks deceivingly like adenosine, it can easily sneak in and block the receptors. Without adenosine, other neurotransmitters can’t get to work.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that causes us to be more alert and awake, while increasing concentration. When caffeine finally wears off, it allows the adenosine — that’s been accumulating all this time — to come rushing back in. This is why we feel our bodies crash after a jolt of caffeine.
“Some research has suggested that the timing of caffeine can have a variable effect on the crash experienced,” shares Matthew Rennels, DO, a provider with ProMedica Family Medicine. “Because adenosine builds up throughout the day, delaying consumption of caffeine until late morning or early afternoon may help lessen the symptoms of the caffeine crash. This is due to your body having extra time to begin processing some of the adenosine before being exposed to caffeine.”
Caffeine and Your Other Organs
While your brain is adjusting to caffeine’s effects, your cardiovascular system is working overtime. Your heart begins pumping harder and faster and can even raise your blood pressure by about 10mmHg.
Down in your gastrointestinal system, caffeine can raise the amount of acid produced by the stomach, causing reflux. It can also increase cholecystokinin which is a hormone that can increase gallbladder contraction. If you have gallbladder issues such as gallstones or gallbladder disease, this can worsen symptoms.
Another organ working hard is your kidneys, which help your body by filtering out all the substances it can’t use. And while some studies suggest coffee isn’t as dehydrating as once thought, in large amounts, caffeine speeds up this filtration process while inhibiting your body from reabsorbing sodium. All that sodium has to go somewhere, and while it’s exiting your body, it’s pulling water with it. This particular side effect is why you find yourself running to the bathroom more frequently.
When To Avoid Caffeine
Women don’t often think about caffeine impacting their reproductive health, but it’s one more area to consider. Expectant moms may choose to avoid caffeine because it has the capability to pass through the placenta and cause fetal symptoms similar to those caused in adults if consumed in large amounts.
When caffeine cruises through our bloodstream, it can touch virtually every organ in our bodies. Since we’re now aware of how the substance affects some of our major organs, someone with a chronic condition associated with one or more of these body systems could potentially see adverse effects.
Those who experience acid reflux, uncontrolled hypertension, cardiac arrhythmias or other heart conditions should avoid caffeine entirely or consume it carefully in moderation. For some, caffeine consumption may also precipitate headaches, migraines, insomnia and anxiety.
“There are multiple forms of caffeine and each can have a highly variable effect on your body as it relates to the dose and delivery,” Dr. Rennels explains. Consider the milligrams of caffeine that you are consuming – whether it be through coffee, tea, food or pill.
Benefits of Caffeine
The news about caffeine’s impact on organs and body systems isn’t all bad. Research suggests that caffeine may be attributed to a decreased risk of developing conditions such as type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, heart disease and depression. Additionally, caffeine consumption is linked to increased cognitive function, alertness and even athletic performance.
When consumed in reasonable amounts, caffeine can be a helpful tool to get you up and moving.
“Treat caffeine like any other supplement,” Dr. Rennels explains. “Use it in moderation and discuss your use of it with your primary care provider.” They will be able to provide any recommendations on your caffeine consumption based on your personal health.