How Caffeine Gets Us Energized

August 4, 2016

Background
I recently learned about an educational method called Big History, founded by David Christian, a historian, and supported by Bill Gates.

Instead of teaching history linearly (& boringly), their method is to show how something relates in the macro sense, going back 13 billion years when everything started. It’s an interdisciplinary way to teach something, rather than relying solely on specialists.

Caffeine
David Christian and team also produced a bunch of episodes for the history channel on simple topics like salt, gold, ice, and caffeine, and how these things changed the course of human history. Very entertaining & eye opening.

The episode on caffeine was particularly interesting to me.
They trace history back to how humans & coffee plants share 50% of their dna, because they evolved from the same original single cell organism. Caffeine is the plant’s natural defense against bugs, but all it does to humans is get us wired. Our strong addiction & desire for caffeine changed the course of human history, through trade, slavery, and agriculture.

I was most surprised to learn that coffee doesn’t actually boost our energy levels. All this time, I had thought drinking coffee was like adding gasoline to the fire. But that’s not the case.

What caffeine does is it plugs into spots in our brain, places normally reserved for molecules that signal tiredness. It’s like a game of musical chairs where caffeine comes in and takes up all the spots. Now the original players keep circling round and round while the music plays, which makes us feel energized.

This causes our own dopamine (the energy neurotransmitter) to be more efficient. Our adrenals release adrenaline to boost our energy. And we feel wired for about 4 to 6 hours.

The big point in all of this is that when we feel energized from coffee or tea, it’s our own natural chemicals that’s doing the job! Wild.

Resources:
Caffeine on the brain
Big History – History Channel
Big History Online Course – free