Coffee is a daily habit for more than half of all American adults, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Although it’s a complex brew that contains antioxidant flavonoids and a variety of other bioactive compounds, most of the benefits associated with coffee -- including the way it enhances cognitive function -- are due to caffeine. Because of coffee's potential risks during pregnancy, expectant mothers should avoid it or speak to an obstetrician regarding coffee consumption.
It’s not surprising that more than two-thirds of coffee-drinking Americans choose to consume the beverage at breakfast time -- caffeine is a psychoactive substance that stimulates brain activity. It targets several parts of your brain, including your adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a brain chemical that decreases brain activity; when caffeine blocks these receptors, it and other brain-stimulating chemicals -- including dopamine -- can flow freely. A scientific review published in “Food and Chemical Toxicology” concluded that caffeine reduces fatigue, increases alertness and improves the performance of simple tasks that require sustained attention.
The Right Amount
The amount of caffeine you get from coffee depends on how the beans are roasted, how you prepare them and how much you consume. Drip-brewed coffee generally supplies between 65 and 120 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce cup. Consuming 3 to 4 cups of coffee a day -- or roughly 300 to 400 milligrams of caffeine -- is considered moderate and has been associated with positive effects. People used to a higher intake may need more to achieve the same effects, however, while those sensitive to caffeine may only benefit from smaller amounts. Drinking too much coffee can make you jittery, anxious and less focused, which may decrease your ability to concentrate.
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Coffee by the Numbers
- IFIC Foundation: Fact Sheet -- Caffeine and Health
- IFIC Foundation: Fact Sheet -- Caffeine and Performance
- Harvard Health Publications: What Is It About Coffee?
- Harvard Health Publications: Caffeine and a Healthy Diet May Boost Memory, Thinking Skills; Alcohol’s Effect Uncertain
- Food and Chemical Toxicology: Effects of Caffeine on Human Behavior
- Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University: Coffee
- Photo Credit Brejeq/iStock/Getty Images
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