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How does coffee work its magic?

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

A magician never reveals her secrets…so I’m gonna do it for her.

The “magician” being coffee, of course.

Black gold, go-juice, brain juice, cupped lightning, liquid energy…whatever cute pet name you use, it’s time to dive in and learn about the secrets of the magical potion known as coffee.

It is the second most popular non-water beverage in the world, behind only all the teas combined. Due to its stimulation of the central nervous system and its psychotropic effects, coffee is actually considered a drug.

And it is a beautiful thing.

Did I mention that I love coffee? Sorry, just want to make that clear.

But how does your morning cup of joe manage to give you that jolt when even a full night’s sleep can’t seem to manage that?

To answer that, we need to first get acquainted with adenosine. Adenosine essentially binds to receptors in your brain and makes you feel sleepy. It tends to accumulate as the day progresses, which is why you get tired and want to hit the hay at night.

This is where our wonderful warrior, dearest caffeine, comes in. When we drink caffeine (whether it is in coffee, a supplement, or an energy drink), it goes in and blocks adenosine from binding to the receptors and creates the anti-sleep effect that we are so familiar with. The blocking of certain types of adenosine receptors also promotes an increase in dopamine, which is what gives us that warm fuzzy feeling as we down our coffees.

But wait just one minute. Do you remember when you first tried coffee and you were bouncing off the walls with excitement and energy? And now, coffee just kinda makes you less sleepy? (no shade, we truly still appreciate you, dear coffee).

This change occurs because of caffeine tolerance. The receptors that, when blocked, promote dopamine release actually become desensitized, which is why you might not experience that same excitement after years of drinking multiple coffees a day. Even a single coffee everyday can create this tolerance.

That kinda sucks, but the BRILLIANT news is that the anti-sleep receptors don’t become desensitized, so we still manage to get that effect, and thank goodness for that!

However, if you want to experience that newbie coffee energy again, simply cut out coffee for about a month and the tolerance will reduce. I say “simply” while fully recognizing that this not a simple solution at all :P

At this point, you may be wondering if there are any health benefits or risks of drinking coffee. Check out this very topic right here!

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