My name is camille.
I ask a lot of questions.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?!: ADDICTION AND WITHDRAWAL
All coffee drinkers have probably experienced them… fatigue, irritability, fogginess, confusion: the symptoms of skipping your morning cup of joe. Did you know that the effects are so significant that the American Psychiatric Association actually considers it a mental disorder?
Now you have a medical excuse. You’re welcome.
Last week I introduced my complicated relationship with coffee by explaining how caffeine works in the body. Today, if you haven’t figured it out already, I want to address what is happening when you go without your usual caffeine. This involves all the negative withdrawal symptoms :/
PS if you really haven't figured it out already, the owl is how you feel on coffee withdrawal. Suh-LEEEE-py. ZZzzzzzz.
When you drink caffeinated drinks regularly, your body starts to adapt. Your brain actually begins to grow adenosine receptors in order to receive the caffeine chemical*. (You’re putting in all this caffeine, and the body needs a place to store it, right?). This means that over time, you need more caffeine to fill those receptors to get the same effect. That’s the addiction.
*(See previous post for image)
So here’s the withdrawal part:
You’re getting more and more of these adenosine receptors. (Remember that adenosine is meant to signal to your body that it’s tired and slow your body down. Again, read Part I). Remember that, because of your coffee drinking, you have grown all these receptors that are shaped to receive adenosine--this hormone that signals “you’re tired!”. But when you don’t receive the expected caffeine (like not drinking your regular coffee), here’s what’s happening: you have all these receptors meant to take caffeine, but no caffeine comes. And remember that those receptors are ADENOSINE receptors in the first place. Caffeine fits into them, but they really are meant for ADENOSINE.
So ADENOSINE floods right in.
SO NOW not only do you NOT have the caffeine blocking the “tired receptors” and increasing levels of adrenaline in your brain (see previous post), you now have tired signals there telling you to SLOW DOWN.
Again, before you get too alarmed, you should know that these effects are reversible. Your body is amazing. When you cut out caffeine, your body will notice and eventually decrease those extra adenosine receptors. BUT just note that this’ll take 1-2 weeks.
Because you can increase receptors for caffeine, my suggestion is to drink caffeine in moderation and most especially not to increase your intake over time. I only say that because you do create those receptors with regular caffeine intake, and unfortunately rely on them to be filled to even function normally. So according to this, I figure, “why help increase the amount you rely on?” Accept that cup of coffee for everything good that it is (more on this in the final, part-III post next week on caffeine!) and stay away from excess consumption!
I AM ADDICTED TO COFFEE
And no, I'm not necessarily proud of this. To me this is a bittersweet reflection, really a mixed statement composing both my love and limited tolerance for caffeine and diuretics :/
Yes, I wish I could tell you that I am a proud coffee drinker. I once was.
I love the feeling, smell, and taste of coffee and cream. However, because of my personal experience with coffee (I am quite sensitive to caffeine), I have had to re-think my relationship with this drink. More on this in upcoming posts. But first, let's see how caffeine works.
This is your brain.
I don’t know if that was necessary...but I just wanted to draw a brain.
This is the ADENOSINE RECEPTOR that spans the cell membrane of the brain.
The lower part of the membrane represents the interior part of the brain. "Caffeine" is meant to label the caffeine molecules (shaped as steaming cups of coffee) that are floating around outside the brain and fit into the adenosine receptor.
Unlike what most people probably think (what I thought!), caffeine isn’t actually a thing (like a chemical) that enters your system to make you more alert.
It actually is a chemical that blocks your body from knowing that it is tired.
How does that happen?? You ask.
Well, it can be explained when you zoom in really close to the outer cells in the brain (shown in the image above).
The cell membrane is lined with different types of receptors. Each has a unique shape and function. But for our purposes, we’re looking specifically at ADENOSINE RECEPTORS.
Receptors are like hands that stick out of the cell to “grab” or receive specific chemicals. Each type of receptor (like an adenosine receptor) is shaped specifically to “fit” the chemical it’s meant to receive. That way, only that chemical can fit and enter the receptor. Once it fits into the receptor, it starts chemical pathways to do what it needs to do.
When I say “do what it needs to do”, in the case of ADENOSINE, we’re talking about getting the “tired” message to the brain.
Remember when I said every receptor has a specific function? Well ADENOSINE’S specific function is to get the "tired" message to the brain. At this point, you should be associating ADENOSINE with TIRED. ADENOSINE tells the brain I’M TIREEDDDDD.
So here’s the interesting part. Usually the chemical for “tired” (ADENOSINE) attaches to the receptor when your body has worked a decent amount and you’re…well, tired. BUT caffeine is such a sneaky bugger. Part of it is shaped EXACTLY LIKE adenosine.
What does that mean? It means that caffeine will fit in real snug into a receptor that was meant for adenosine!!! Let’s say that again. Caffeine is shaped so similarly to adenosine that it will physically fit into an adenosine receptor. At this point you should be thinking of caffeine as a dopple ganger…who is also an identity thief…Basically, someone who would use their look-alike skills to steal someone else’s goods.
But why does that matter?? Because caffeine acts like a plug in a bathtub. It just completely stops the message “TIRED” that adenosine would have sent up to your brain. So even though your body is still working, and adenosine is trying to tell your body to STOP YOU’RE TIRED ALREADY, caffeine is blocking that message from getting through.
As if that weren’t enough to keep us stimulated, you may be wondering what happens to the adenosine that gets blocked from its receptors? Well, now it’s floating around in the brain. And when the brain detects the presence of all that adenosine, it actually releases ADRENALINE as a response!! (I think we all know what that hormone does—increases the activation of the sympathetic system, aka “fight-or-flight” responses).
Doesn’t that suddenly seem a little alarming? Because if you’re thinking what I’m thinking, our body is still working (and overworking!), but we just aren’t aware of it. Our brain simply isn’t getting that “tired” message. Plus, we now have increased levels of adrenaline in our already overworked bodies!
In essence, we’re just delaying all the effects that our body should be feeling to tell us we’re tired.
But before you get too alarmed, or-more terribly-think that I am anti-caffeine- This is just part 1 of my series on caffeine. Read the next posts for more on the benefits (hello antioxidants!), opinions, and effects of this lovely drink. I’ll be sharing more of my experience with coffee (my love, as well as my unfortunate intolerances) as well.
If you have any questions on caffeine, send them my way! In the meantime, see you next week!