If you are currently reading the newspaper with a cup of coffee in your hand, you may be happy to hear that you are not alone in doing so. Coffee contains the world’s most popular and consumed legal drug: caffeine. Astonishingly, over two billion cups of coffee are poured worldwide every day, with 70 million cups consumed in the UK.
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Recent surveys have shown that British consumers are frequenting coffee shops 39% more often than in the previous 12 months, and that the rise is set to continue. Retailers have now recognised that Britons have become more sophisticated, experienced and many require a stronger taste with regards to coffee consumption. A small group of educated coffee consumers previously existed, but being knowledgeable on coffee has now become the norm.
Is the mug of coffee sitting on your desk actually harmful to your health? Let us start with the many beneficial effects that coffee, or the psychoactive drug caffeine, has on the human body and the brain. The effects are initially felt 15 minutes after consumption, and it will reach its peak effect in approximately 30 minutes.
Only half of the caffeine in our bodies will disappear after six hours. Caffeine is a stimulant and encourages the production of adrenaline. It will increase the heart rate, constrict blood vessels, increase the passing of urine, suppress appetite and increase alertness.
Caffeine blocks the receptor for the chemical adenosine, a neurotransmitter that calms the body and nerves for the preparation of sleep. As a result, the “fight or flight” response is provoked and this gives rise to an increase in alertness and energy levels. Its short-term effects are thought to improve productivity and concentration.
Simple intellectual tasks and physical endurance activities may be enhanced, but fine motor controls will not. The brain will be stimulated, fatigue will be postponed and your mood elevated. Contrary to popular belief, the consumption of coffee will not inhibit the effects of alcohol or sober you up, but it will merely make you more alert, whilst co-ordination and concentration will still be impaired.
As with most drugs, excessive consumption of caffeine will have negative consequences. Excess caffeine can cause increased nervousness, restlessness, irritability and anxiety. Your heartbeat will increase and you may experience muscle tremors. Drinking coffee late at night can also cause insomnia, although this may be what you desire if you are looking to revise all night. It must be noted that caffeine sensitivity varies from person to person, and that a small amount of the drug could have a bigger effect on one person than it does on others.
Many of us will increase our consumption of caffeine when exams are looming. Although it may be helpful, one must be warned of the ill effects posed by coffee when it is consumed excessively.