Americans love caffeine. Specifically, college students love caffeine. Nearly 90 percent of Americans consume caffeine each day with coffee as the favored front-runner. In fact, more than 50 percent of our population drinks an average of 3.1 cups of coffee per day, which comes as no surprise after learning that more than 30,000 specialty coffee shops have popped up across the US over the past 26 years.
Though the monumental growth of the coffee industry has undoubtedly impacted our country's economic growth, it's important to understand the health implications behind this caffeine craze. Furthermore, as a current or prospective college student, knowing the pros and cons behind guzzling this proverbial "life blood" can help you make the most of caffeine.
Caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world, with profound effects on brain chemistry that makes it effective and addictive. To understand how caffeine works, it's helpful to break the science down into its effects on two main receptors in the brain: adenosine and dopamine. Adenosine is a chemical compound that's one of four integral bases of the nucleic acids that make life possible. Because this chemical is created in the brain, it's designed to bind to adenosine receptors and slow down nerve cell activity to ultimately cause drowsiness.
Caffeine looks like adenosine to a nerve cell, except that when it binds to the adenosine receptor, it doesn't slow the cell's activity. Instead, caffeine enables the cell to identify adenosine and causes the nerve cells to increase activity. It also causes the blood vessels to constrict, which boosts the firing of neurons and triggers a sense of activity and emergency in the brain's pituitary gland. The brain then releases hormones that prompt the production of adrenaline which has an array of side effects like increased heartbeat and blood pressure, dilated pupils and airways, and a boost of sugar released into the bloodstream for added energy.
Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that prompts feelings of pleasure in the brain, can be easily mimicked by drugs like heroin, cocaine, and, unsurprisingly, caffeine. Though caffeine's effect on dopamine levels is much weaker than heroine, the concept is the same—it's what creates the chemical addiction to caffeine. There are numerous health risks associated with excessive caffeine intake.
While caffeine does temporarily boost blood pressure, the risk comes when this boost occurs over and over again, as researchers have discovered that this could increase your risk of heart disease. Regular consumption of soft drinks could lower bone density in women and can raise the amount of acid in your stomach, causing heartburn and an upset stomach. Because caffeine is also a diuretic, it can cause dehydration and could interfere with the absorption and metabolism of calcium.Whether caffeine is good or bad for your body has been a decades-long debate that seems to be almost settled. In fact, a new study has found that individuals who drink three to five cups of coffee every day have a 15 percent chance of living longer than those who don't drink coffee. Additionally, coffee has been proven to decrease the risk of stroke as well as the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
What's most important for you as a student, however, is that Johns Hopkins researchers have found that caffeine also contains properties that can enhance your memory. While caffeine is proven to have a positive effect on long-term memory, this study found that caffeine can also enhance your ability to retain certain memories for at least 24 hours post-consumption.
Scientists, doctors, and experts across the board recommend that, though caffeine may have several benefits, it should be consumed in moderation. In fact, research shows that drinking or taking more than 400 milligrams of caffeine at a time is too much, and can interfere with your sleep and feelings of stress and anxiety. One particular study11 found that 200 milligrams of caffeine is the ideal amount if you wish to enhance cognitive functioning and improve your mood.
As you now know, there are several benefits of caffeine that can help you succeed in college, especially when it comes to completing course material and studying. Whether you're a parent, working professional, or someone interested in starting a new career, you can now have confidence going to class, knowing caffeine isn't your enemy—it's your friend (but only as long as you drink it in moderation).