Why Coffee is Bad for Your Brain

Many of us self-medicate unknowingly by eating, drinking or smoking substances that temporarily promote the neurotransmitter we lack. Caffeine is a good example.

Caffeine – the great short-term booster

Caffeine causes a short-term boost to your adrenalin levels, giving you some drive and motivation. Nicotine triggers the release of dopamine, GABA, glutamate, adrenalin and acetylcholine, while dampening the effect of serotonin. Sugar can also increase amounts of dopamine in the short term. But all of these substances are – unsurprisingly – bad news in the long term.

So what happens long-term?

All of these substances blunt your brain and make it progressively less sensitive to its own neurotransmitters and less able to produce healthy patterns of brain wave activity, a process called down-regulation.

It happens because substances like coffee block the enzyme that would normally break down excessive adrenalin, hence your adrenalin levels can soar five times higher after coffee. This is like turning up the volume too high in your brain, forcing the brain to protect itself by blocking its ‘neurotransmitter ears’, which are the receptor sites for adrenalin.

The more often you do this, the deafer your brain becomes and the more of the stimulant you need to get going. This is why these substances are addictive.

Extracts from The Alzheimer’s Prevention Plan by Patrick Holford, Piatkus, 2011.

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