The history of coffee begins in the 14th century in Ethiopiaa, Where he began to be attributed stimulating properties. From the Horn of Africa, its use spread to Yemen in the 15th century and from there spread to the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. It was the trade of Venetian ships with the Middle East that brought coffee to Europe, from where it was introduced to America (Cano-Marquina, Tarín and Cano, 2013).
In Spain alone, 14 billion cups of coffee are consumed per year, with an average weekly coffee consumption of 3.6 cups per day among those over 15 years of age. It should be added that 22 million people in Spain drink at least one coffee per day (Ramírez, 2016). These consumption patterns are similar in America and the rest of Europe, with the Nordic countries leading the way in terms of per capita consumption.
Therefore, given how entrenched caffeinated drinks such as coffee are in the Western diet, the study of its short, medium and long term effects has become of great importance. Analyzes and research have been carried out both psychologically and physiologically.
What is coffee?
One of the main components of coffee, and which takes its name from it, is caffeine. This substance, which we ingest in each cup, is a plant alkaloid that acts as an adenosine receptor antagonist in the nervous system.
Caffeine prevents the degradation of cyclic adenosine monophosphate by phosphodiesterases, which improves postsynaptic neurotransmission in the sympathetic nervous system. For this reason, one of the main effects of caffeine on the body is, by increasing the intensity of transmission, to cause activation in the body (Glade, 2010). Although caffeine is the best known, in a cup of coffee we can find, among others, components such as vitamin B3, magnesium and potassium.
Beneficial effects of its consumption
Based on information provided by science over decades of research, it appears that the positive effects of moderate and chronic coffee consumption far outweigh the potential harm it can cause. The consequences and effects of caffeine consumption involve other factors that increase the state of alertness, in addition to the substance itself such as, for example, the personality of the consumer and the time of day (time of the cycle). circadian).
Caffeine mostly improves performance in supervisory tasks and other simple tasks that require sustained attention. It also increases the level of alertness and reduces the feeling of fatigue (both mental and physical), and this effect can be beneficial for sport. These effects are particularly marked when, due to the situation, the subject’s level of activation is markedly low (night work, driving on a motorway with few bends, etc.). Given the latter, caffeine consumption can lead to increased safety and efficiency in certain workplaces and in environments such as driving (Smith, 2002). Moderate consumption has also been linked to a decrease in the incidence of diabetes and liver disease (Cano-Marquina, Tarín and Cano, 2013).
Returning to its relationship with adenosine, in recent years, studies have been developed in which they assess the neuroprotective role of caffeine in certain diseases. Adenosine itself plays an important role in controlling brain disorders, relying on inhibitory A1R receptors (which are believed to function as a barrier to neurodegeneration) and A2AR facilitating receptors (the blockade is said to attenuate long-term damage from various neurodegenerative conditions). Caffeine would come into play by acting as an antagonist of the A2AR receptor, which would promote the phenomenon of synaptic plasticity and, like other antagonists of this receptor, would act as a cognitive “normalizer”, preventing deterioration and reducing their progression.
Therefore, this could be a promising start in the study of A2AR adenosine receptor blockers, offering diverse new therapeutic options for the treatment of early stages, for example, of Alzheimer’s disease (Gomes et al. , 2011).
The bitter side of caffeine
Regarding the pernicious effects of caffeine, in the review of the subject by Smith (2002), he states that these harms only appear under certain conditions. One of them would be to be consumed by people with anxiety issues, the level of activation itself is already high.
In people not affected by this problem, the negative effects would occur when excessively high amounts are consumed. Ingestion of drinks such as coffee, in these situations, would cause an increase in anxiety and this would lead, for example, to tachycardia, sleep disturbances or even worsening fine motor skills (Smith, 2002). When consumption exceeds around 300 mg per day, the motor system can be significantly activated, altering the sleep-wake cycle in addition to generally increasing the rates of brain metabolism.
While, as with many other substances, not consuming enough caffeine can lead to several problems, there is reason to be optimistic about this. Almost all consumers consume between a low and moderate intake (50-300 mg per day), with these doses reflected in the beneficial behavioral effects mentioned above. Although some people describe coffee and therefore caffeine as a socially accepted drug, the brain mechanisms that are affected by the consumption of this psychostimulant differ greatly from other substances of abuse such as cocaine, amphetamines, alcohol, THC. and nicotine (Nehlig, 1999).
Why then does this consumption not reach harmful levels?
The area of the brain most closely linked to drug dependence is considered in neuroscience to be the pleasure zone, i.e. the nucleus accumbens. This nucleus is divided both functionally and morphologically into a central area and the crustal area. The mesolimbic dopamine system, which originates in the ventral tegmental area and ends in the nucleus accumbens, also plays an important role in reinforcing addictive behaviors.
Enough to feel the effects of drug abuse like cocaine, alcohol and others, they selectively activate dopaminergic neurotransmission in the cortex of the nucleus accumbens, Which supports the very high addictive power of these substances. In contrast, the consumption of caffeine necessary to activate its properties increases the release of dopamine only in the caudate nucleus without inducing release in the nucleus accumbens. This selective activation of the caudate nucleus is linked to the stimulating properties of caffeine in psychomotor activity.
On the other hand, caffeine also stimulates the release of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex, which would be consistent with its psychostimulatory properties and with improved drinking behavior. For caffeine to increase the functional activity of the bark of the nucleus accumbens, it would have to be consumed in amounts five times the daily average. This high consumption would activate many other brain structures such as most of the limbic and thalamic regions and those related to the extrapyramidal motor system. This would explain the side effects of excessive consumption. In conclusion of these data, Astrid Nehlig (1999) states that although caffeine has certain criteria to be considered a drug of abuse, the risk of addiction is very low.
Finally, given the good self-regulatory capacity of the general population both in the amount to consume and the time of day, knowing the pros and cons of something as common as drinking a cup even more responsible consumption. In light of the information that scientific research offers us, there does not seem to be a more powerful excuse to take a break and have a coffee in company of friends, family or colleagues than to improve their own health. Everything for the well-being.
- Cano-Marquina, A., Tarín, JJ and Cano, A. (2013). The impact of coffee on health. Maturitas, 75 (1), 7-21.
- Glade, MJ (2010). Caffeine, not just a stimulant. Nutrition, 26 (10), 932-938.
- Gomes, CV, Kaster, MP, Tomé, AR, Agostinho, PM and Cunha, RA (2011). Adenosine receptor and brain diseases: neuroprotection and neurodegeneration. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) -Biomembranes, 1808 (5), 1380-1399.
- Nehlig, A. (1999). Are we dependent on coffee and caffeine? A review of human and animal data. Journals of Neuroscience and Biological Behavior, 23 (4), 563-576.
- Ramírez, I. (2016). Increases the presence of coffee in the life of Spaniards – elEconomista.es. Eleconomista.es. Retrieved from: http://www.eleconomista.es/empresas-finanzas/consumo/noticias/7174035/11/15/Crece-la-presencia-de-cafe-en-la-vida-de-los-espanoles.html
- Smith, A. (2002). Effects of caffeine on human behavior. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 40 (9), 1243-1255.