Home » Health & Fitness » What Drinking Coffee Actually Does To Your Body
Aug
14

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Whether you just like the taste of coffee, drink it out of habit, or truly rely on it for energy, it’s no secret the drink has magical powers. But have you ever thought about what it’s actually doing after you gulp down your morning mug?

Coffee comes from a bean, so it contains phytonutrients and polyphenols, chemical compounds found in plants that are believed to have antioxidant benefits, Dana Hunnes, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., senior dietician at UCLA Medical Center and adjunct assistant professor at the Fielding School of Public Health, tells SELF. “But for the most part, caffeine tends to be the nutrient in coffee that people are most aware of and that’s the best studied.”

From your brain to your bowels, coffee does work on your body. Here’s what’s really happening when you drink it.

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The caffeine enters your bloodstream and quickly finds its way to your brain, where it works as a stimulant and boosts alertness and energy.

“The chemical enters your bloodstream fairly quickly,” Hunnes says. It can take as few as 10 minutes from drinking for caffeine to start working. Caffeine binds to adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine is a nervous system depressant, meaning its presence suppresses arousal and promotes sleep. When caffeine intrudes and binds to the receptors, adenosine’s effects are lessened, and we become stimulated. This increased brain activity then stimulates the release of adrenaline, which is what gives us that big burst of energy and attentiveness associated with a morning cup of Joe. Studies also have connected caffeine consumption to a boost in memory.

The caffeine enters your bloodstream and quickly finds its way to your brain, where it works as a stimulant and boosts alertness and energy.

“The chemical enters your bloodstream fairly quickly,” Hunnes says. It can take as few as 10 minutes from drinking for caffeine to start working. Caffeine binds to adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine is a nervous system depressant, meaning its presence suppresses arousal and promotes sleep. When caffeine intrudes and binds to the receptors, adenosine’s effects are lessened, and we become stimulated. This increased brain activity then stimulates the release of adrenaline, which is what gives us that big burst of energy and attentiveness associated with a morning cup of Joe. Studies also have connected caffeine consumption to a boost in memory.

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The downside is that drinking too much can cause insomnia.

“If you have caffeine later in the day, it can actually predispose you to develop insomnia or make it worse if you already have it,” Rachel Salas, M.D., an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins Medicine who specializes in sleep medicine, tells SELF. It can keep anyone up if they drink it too close to bedtime, but if you’re prone to develop insomnia, a coffee habit can be the trigger that causes a chronic problem. Salas suggests stopping coffee (and all other caffeine) consumption at noon if you think it may be impacting your ability to fall asleep at night. If you can’t function before your morning cup, it’s a red flag you need to take a look at your sleep habits. Coffee is a helpful crutch when you’re tired, but it’s not going to actually give you more energy in the long term. Only good sleep can do that.

That’s partially because caffeine stays in your system for hours and hours.

“The way we metabolize coffee is called a half-life,” Hunnes says. In most people, caffeine’s half-life is 4 to 6 hours. “It takes about 6 hours to reduce the amount of caffeine in our blood by about 50 percent,” she explains. So if you drink a 200 mg cup at 9 AM, by 3 PM you’ll have 100 mg left, and by 9 PM you’ll have 50 mg. Keep in mind, that’s the average half-life—how quickly you metabolize caffeine really depends on your individual body chemistry and genetics.

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