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What is Caffeine, and why do we love it?

Updated: Nov 21, 2019

Sometimes we need a boost. Caffeine might be able to give you that boost. But, what are the short- and long-term effects of this little molecule?

An immediate boost of energy

Caffeine is a natural stimulant. That means that it activates the central nervous system. In essence, it blocks a chemical pathway that usually makes you feel drowsy. That’s why caffeine makes you feel awake, and improves your concentration and focus. This is why some people might say not to even talk to them before their first cup of coffee. Or while coffee is seen as the fuel of student, or writers (a lot of writers hang out in coffee shops).

But this boost of energy can have some negative effects. Too much coffee (or: too much caffeine) can leave you feeling jittery and restless. Even more caffeine might upset your stomach, increase your heartbeat to an uncomfortable speed or cause muscle tremors. And even if you spread out the caffeine consumption, it can lead to trouble falling asleep and insomnia. So maybe don’t drink too much too late?

The long term effect of caffeine

There are both good and bad short term effects of ingesting caffeine, and the same could be said on the long term. There is some evidence that suggests that caffeine consumption decreases the risk of some types of cancer - such as liver, mouth, and throat - and protects against cardiovascular disease, stroke, and Parkinson’s disease. And in small doses, it can boost your long term memory.

There’s a caveat though. Caffeine messes with your sleep, and sleep is important for memory and learning processes. So interfering too much with normal sleeping patterns can have an adverse effect on your long term memory. In addition, it is essentially a psychoactive substance and that jittery short term effect we mentioned earlier? That’s a small step towards anxiety.

But before you hate on caffeine completely, let’s just say that as with many things, moderation is key. Those one or two cups of coffee a day probably won’t affect your health too much and actually give you a little concentration boost when you need it. On the other hand, it’s not something you need, so maybe going decaf - at least some of the time - will give you your coffee fix and let you still get a good night's sleep making you feel better in the long run. Good thing there are easy ways to get decaf coffee that also tastes good!

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