Coffee and the Brain

Many of us can’t seem to function without our morning coffee, and with over two billion cups enjoyed worldwide every year, it seems the world’s growing love affair with a good brew crosses continents, uniting us all in our mutual love of a daily caffeine hit. And it’s not just us humans either – did you know bees get a stimulant effect from caffeine? It’s similar to the one we experience and works out pretty well for the coffee plant too – bees pollinate coffee plants like crazy!

With our favourite locals in Whistler and Pemberton stopping by to regularly consume what is essentially a powerful psychoactive substance (yes, really!) we thought it would be a good idea to share some of the science behind what coffee can do for the brain. So take a sip of some coffee (to increase your attention span and focus!) and read on…

Let’s get down to some key facts first…What are the most common effects of coffee on the brain?

– Coffee makes us more alert and awake
– Coffee gives us more focus
– Coffee improves our memory
– Coffee increases our attention span
– Coffee is a mood booster
– Coffee improves our ability to learn
– Coffee consumption is associated with a longer lifespan

Why coffee keeps us awake

It’s pretty normal for us humble humans to become more tired as the day progresses, especially after a busy day at work or at play. This is because our brains naturally produce more of a molecule called adenosine throughout the day – from the time we wake up until bedtime. Scientists believe this is what helps us to fall asleep at night. The reason why coffee hinders sleep and tiredness is because caffeine hijacks this natural process by mimicking adenosine in the brain. It latches onto the receptors designed for adenosine, pushing them out of the way and, as a result, we’re left feeling more alert and awake because adenosine can’t do its job properly. Eventually, however, adenosine wises up to caffeine’s crafty act and makes new receptors for the sleep-inducing molecule to start latching onto again. This is why your morning coffee can slowly turn into two or three cups – the more receptors your brain creates, the more caffeine you need to block adenosine.

Coffee and genetics

Do you know somebody who’s able to drink five double espressos a day and sleep like a baby each night, while you’re still buzzing for several hours after a single-shot cappucino? Although some of us slowly become more tolerant to increased coffee consumption over time (well…practise makes perfect!), the reason one person is more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than another could actually lie in your genetics. Caffeine sensitivity varies between humans because of an enzyme called CYP1A2 which metabolizes coffee in your liver. How much CYP1A2 you create depends on your CYP1A2 gene and small changes in this gene can affect how a person processes caffeine. Needless to say, no two coffee drinkers are exactly the same – your genetic make-up and unique brain chemistry build your very own relationship (or passionate love affair) with caffeine.

Coffee for athletes

Living in one of the world’s meccas for adrenalin-fuelled sports and home to a high-conentrateion of talented athletes, we were pretty smart to open up coffee shops in Whistler and Pemberton, if we do say so ourselves! This is because caffeine is one of the best-tested ergogenic aids (substances that enhance an individual’s energy use, production, or recovery) and is known to help athletes train harder and for longer. The average improvement in sports performance is about 12%, with more benefits noticed during longer, endurance exercise. Research also indicates that coffee stimulates our body to utilize fat stores as fuel during long workouts. Instead of ​utilizing muscle glycogen (sugar) during exercise, there appears to be a shift to fat stores, allowing for prolonged use of working muscles. We’re pretty stoked that what we do at Mount Currie Coffee Co can help contribute towards our local athletes killing it on the mountain!

Good mood food

Having only just started drinking proper, caffenated coffee earlier this year after joining the team at Mount Currie Coffee Co (Whistler) in January, I’ve been genuinely amazed at the mood-boosting effect a double espresso has on me within about an hour of drinking it. This new love of espresso (thanks to the delicious flavour of Pallet’s Benchmark beans) follows a ten-year caffeine hiatus, whereby I only drank the occasional decaf soy latte and opted mostly for herbal teas. I had always been aware that coffee could wake you up and help your attention span (my brother and sister have always been huge fans), but I genuinely hadn’t realised there was a mood-enhancing connection, so I was particularly keen to find out more.

It turns out, when caffeine blocks adenosine in the brain, it stimulates the chemicals glutamate and dopamine, allowing them to flow more freely. This gives you a surge of energy, improving mental performance and mood, and also slows age-related mental decline. Caffeine also increases serotonin – a major mood influencer and the chemical that helps with sleeping, eating and digesting. This boost makes you feel more positive and motivated, and is strong enough to measurably affect depression. That’s right – a morning cup of coffee can actually make you a happier person! Hurrah! Interestingly, some studies have found that decaffeinated coffee can also improve mood, suggesting that substances other than caffeine – such as chlorogenic acids – may also affect your mood and performance. Studies have also shown that mid to late-morning might be the best time to reap the benefits of a mood-boosting coffee.

Coffee drinkers live longer

According to a study of just under half a million people from 10 European countries, drinking three cups of coffee a day may help you live longer. Published in ‘The Annals of Internal Medicine’ journal, the research suggests that an extra cup of coffee could lengthen a person’s lifespan – even if it is decaffeinated. Researchers who have analysed the diet and health of hundreds of thousands of individuals have suggested that regular coffee drinkers are less likely to die from heart disease, cancer and diabetes, among other conditions. However, we do know that there are many factors that effect lifespan and a healthy diet and a lifestyle with plenty of exercise is most important. So we suggest ditching your car today, and taking a walk, run or cycle to your local coffee shop (preferably us) to enjoy that life-extending latte!

How much coffee is too much coffee?

As much as we love the taste and the positive effects of coffee, like everything in life, sometimes having too much of a good thing isn’t always right for us. Caffiene from tea, coffee and energy drinks can remain in the body for up to 5-6 hours so if you’re particularly sensitive to caffeine, it’s probably best to switch to decaf after 3.00pm to ensure a relaxed evening and peaceful night’s sleep. And if you’re going to limit your coffee intake at all, why not go for quality over quantity? That’s where Mount Currie Coffee Co can help with our delicious flavour profiles and expert coffee-making knowledge, so you can be sure to receive a first-class coffee, every time.

Caffeine can sometimes cause heightened feelings of anxiety or jitteriness too. This might be particularly noticeable if you drink a lot of coffee but don’t use the extra energy and adrenaline that it creates for you – either through an active working day or through exercise. Caffeine excites our brain cells, which tells our hormone control centre – the pituitary gland – that there’s an emergency. The pituitary tells the adrenal glands to flood the body with adrenaline, which is the hormone behind the ‘fight or flight’ response. Adrenaline prompts us to either stay and face a threatening situation or flee a scene. It’s because of this that too much coffee or caffeine can make us feel more irritable, anxious, and sometimes far more emotionally charged.

So listen to your brain and your body and make sure you stay hydrated with plenty of water, which will have a diluting effect on caffeine, should you need it. And don’t forget – at Mount Currie Coffee Co, our decaf tastes just as good as our regular coffee thanks to Pallet’s Ethiopian Sidamo bean, which is decaffienated with a gentle 100% chemical-free process by the Swiss Water Decaf Company.

Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to find out more about what we do at Mount Currie Coffee Company.