First published on 29 May 2013. Updated on 1 Jun 2013.
It probably speaks volumes about my qualities as a human being, but there is one argument that I have had more often than any other.
Is it about the human rights atrocity that is our asylum seeker policies over the last decade? No.
Is it about the intrinsic dangers of not teaching our children basic critical thinking skills? No.
Is it that Future of the Left are and remain the greatest live band to ever walk the Earth? No (although that’s a close second).
The argument I have had more often than any other is about coffee. More specifically, about the awesomeness of coffee and why it is good to drink it.
It’s not my fault that it’s come up so frequently over the years. See, every so often a friend or colleague will go on a health kick. They will do bootcamp. They will eat vegetables. They will stop drinking booze. These are all good things to do if you’re attempting to increase your level of fitness and lose some weight. Well done, friend or colleague.
However: more often than not, these undeniably smart activities will be accompanied by others that are, to be kind, fucking stupid. Often this will take the form of a fight against unspecified toxins, which supposedly accumulate in the body because of our oh-so-artificial lifestyle. (Which is wrong, incidentally: provided that you have a functioning stomach, liver, pancreas and kidneys, you’re already flushing out the stuff you don’t need. That’s why your abdomen’s full of all that gear.)
What's worse is that every so often there’ll be a study that claims that coffee has some detrimental effect, like a recent one that claims that drinking upwards of six cups a day – journalist levels, in other words – may lead to weight gain through chlorogenic acid increasing insulin resistence. And that's when these people get insufferably smug: which is, after all, my domain.
"If you’re going to have at coffee, you’re going to have to go through me first: me, and science"
Well, researchers from the Western Australian Institute for Medical Research and the University of Western Australia – if that is your real name – if you’re going to have at coffee you’re going to have to go through me first. And not just me, but my old friend science – and that’s because…
…it makes you smarter!
Ever wondered how caffeine works? It mimics the effect of adenosine, a neurotransmitter which binds to receptors in the brain and slows down nerve cell activity and makes you feel drowsy. What caffeine does is bind to the same receptors, not just preventing adenosine from attaching but actually speeding up brain activity. Your brain genuinely runs faster on caffeine.
…it gets your body primed by scaring your brain!
This increased brain activity doesn’t just make you operate faster: your whole body is excited. This isn’t because your body is chuffed about your new brain skillz, but because the increased rate of firing neurons in your brain makes your pituitary gland think something dangerous is happening, so it promptly starts releasing adrenalin. That’s why you get fidgety at around coffee number four: your body’s all primed in case it needs to wrestle a sabre-toothed tiger.
…it also happies you up good!
Caffeine has another awesome effect: it slows down the rate of dopamine reabsorption by receptors – or, to put it another way, it activates pleasure centres in your brain. It’s the same process used by chocolate, cocaine and heroin. The effect is much, much lower though – which is why you’ve probably never been approached at a bus station by a guy begging for cash for an espresso.
…it helps drugs work!
Caffeine makes your blood vessels contract, which speeds up your blood flow – so if you have a headache and you want fast relief, have a cuppa with your aspirin as this effect will speed the chemicals around your body once it’s ingested. Caffeine’s included in a surprising amount of medications for this exact reason.
…it has honest-to-god health benefits!
Regular coffee drinking – and we’re talking a couple of cups a day here – has been linked to significant decreases in the development of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease, the rate of colon cancer, cirrhosis of the liver and even development of gallstones. And this isn’t some bullshit “Vitamin C may reduce severity of cold” weasel words here: these results emerged from a literature review of more that 19,000 studies on caffeine and the body, and is guiding directions in research into these diseases. There’s also a less strong but tantalisingly significant link between caffeine intake and reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes. Basically, our little friend trimethylxanthine is as close as we have to some sort of miracle drug.
…alright, fine, it does affect your sleep!
Even the most avid caffeine enthusiast has to concede that there’s a time to stop slamming it into your body, and the answer is “by about lunch”. The half life of caffeine – the amount of time that it takes for your body to flush out half the dose – is about six hours, and adenosine levels are linked to the really deep, refreshing, delta-wave kind of sleep – so ideally you don’t want something messing with uptake by your receptors. It should be all out of you by the twelve hour mark, so best to make it a morning-only thing.
So, next time someone piously tells you that they’re giving up caffeine as part of their health kick, you can tell ‘em that they’re actually removing a host of health benefits, not to mention making themselves slower, sadder and dumber.
And then make me a long black.