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Coffee has been called “the world’s most common recreational drug,” and with good reason.
Every morning, roughly 83 percent of American adults reach for a cup of java to jump-start their day.
Are you one of them?
Even if you’re not, it’s a safe bet you’ve met your friends at a coffee shop and enjoyed a triple mocha cappuccino — or the all-American favorite, coffee and pie — a time or two.
There’s no getting around the fact that coffee influences us.
The question, though, is whether that effect is good or bad. The data is still coming in on that…
It seems like every month or so, there’s another study that tells us one of two things: coffee will cure us of all that ails us, or coffee will kill us.
It seems that the real answer is more complex than that.
Several recent studies shed some light on some previously unrecognized things that happen in our bodies and brains when we drink coffee.
And, some research is telling us that we may be able to get the benefits of coffee without taking a single sip.
Caffeine alters our chemistry… more than we thought
You’ve heard people talk about having a slow or a fast metabolism. But really, our metabolism simply refers to the chemical processes our body goes through constantly in order to stay alive.
Metabolites are the chemicals our body produces in order to make that happen.
A recent study at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine revealed that drinking coffee may change more of your body chemistry than previously thought.
In the study, 47 coffee drinkers gave up the caffeine habit for a month. During the following month, they drank four cups a day. Then, they upped it to eight cups a day.
During this time, researchers took blood samples in order to analyze changes in the subjects’ biochemistry.
Coffee had an impact on 115 metabolites, only 82 of which were previously known.
“These are entirely new pathways by which coffee might affect health,” said Marilyn Cornelis, lead author of the study.
Of particular interest was coffee’s apparent and surprising effect on the endocannabinoid system.
Like cannabis, only in reverse
Your body’s endocannabinoid system is a network of neurological receptors throughout the body.
The endocannabinoids that this system produces are chemically very similar to cannabis and keep pretty much all your bodily systems in balance… everything from memory to digestion, blood pressure to sleep to the perception of pain.
Apparently, caffeine works on this system, but in reverse fashion to the effect of cannabis. In other words, while cannabis stimulates the system, caffeine seems to put it in low gear.
Since your body produces lower levels of endocannabinoids when under stress, Dr. Cornelis and her team question whether increased caffeine consumption is a significant stressor for our bodies.
Of course, that would not be a good thing. Suppressing those endocannabinoids disturbs the body’s healthy equilibrium, known as homeostasis.
Dr. Cornelis says that more research is needed to get to the bottom of this question.
Get the “buzz” without drinking
If these results concern you, there’s good news.
Another recent study shows that just a whiff of coffee, just inhaling that great aroma, could give you some of the cognitive benefits without having to take a sip.
And it’s not just the smell that can do it. Even thinking about coffee can apparently arouse those same centers in the brain.
When study participants were asked to come up with an advertising slogan for coffee, they showed increased alertness, energy levels, and heart rate. They also seemed to think more narrowly, in a more focused manner.
“Our research can offer intriguing implications, as it relies not on physiology but rather psychological associations to change our cognitive patterns,” said Dr. Eugene Chan of Monash University in Australia, one of two study authors.
Everything in moderation
In recent years there’s been no shortage of studies on coffee’s health-boosting perks.
So, should you give up your favorite Sumatran blend for your endocannabinoid system? It’s an emerging area of study so there’s a lot there still to be uncovered there.
This might be better advice…
For percolated perks, drink this much coffee, but remember, like every other “indulgent” food or drink we enjoy, the rule of thumb applies: everything in moderation.
And there’s always Willie Nelson’s cannabis coffee.
- There’s Evidence Coffee Acts on Your Brain Like Cannabis, But in Reverse — ScienceAlert
- Metabolomic response to coffee consumption: application to a three‐stage clinical trial — Journal of Internal Medicine
- A Whiff of Coffee Can Wake You Up — Live Science
- Espresso yourself: Coffee thoughts leave a latte on the mind — Monash University
- Coffee Cues Elevate Arousal and Reduce Level of Construal — Consciousness and Cognition