How Is Caffeine Affecting Your Brain?

How Is Caffeine Affecting Your Brain?

Used by approximately 87% of the population, caffeine has become the most widely consumed neurostimulant in the world.   Although intended to raise alertness in its users, researchers have found it can also affect the blood flow in our brains.

Present in coffee, soft drinks, tea, chocolate, analgesics and dietary supplements, caffeine (1,3,7 – trimethylxanthine) has become a part of our everyday lives.   Its abundance raises many concerns in regards to its effects on our health and whether its benefits outweigh the consequences.

Led by Merideth Addicott, researchers have discovered that caffeine acts as a competitive antagonist of adenosine A2A and A2B receptors found on cerebrovascular smooth muscle, leading to vasoconstriction of blood vessels.   As a result, cerebral blood flow (CBF) is reduced.   Adenosine, an essential cellular component involved with energy metabolism, acts as an extracellular signaling molecule through its binding to receptors found on nearly every cell in the body.   Normally adenosine would bind to those receptors on vascular smooth muscle and cause vasodilation, but the presence of caffeine creates competition for binding sites, ultimately leading to vasoconstriction.   The vasoconstrictive property of caffeine leads to a reduction of CBF.

Caffeine users have also been known to experience symptoms of withdrawal proportional to their daily intake of the drug.   These symptoms include headache, fatigue, and impaired concentration, emerging between 12 and 24 hours following caffeine termination.   Symptoms may be present with consumption of as little as 100 mg/day of caffeine use.

In their study, forty-five adult volunteers, aged 18-50 years, were selected based on a strict list of criteria and were organized into categories based on their daily caffeine consumption.   Participants were defined as either “low users” (less than 200 mg/day), “moderate users” (between 200 and 600 mg/day), or “high...