Caffeine and alcohol shake up the brain


Caffeine and alcohol consumption have a direct effect on our brain chemistry.

An estimated 80 to 90 percent of Americans report having caffeine on a daily
basis. Caffeine can be found in foods such as chocolate, in many beverages such
as coffee, tea, soft drinks and energy drinks, and in over-the-counter
medicines such as aspirin.

The degree of sensitivity can vary greatly from person to person. Caffeine is a
drug that stimulates the central nervous system. While it increases levels of
serotonin, it also links to specific receptors on the surface of brain cells
normally reserved for another naturally occurring and calming neurotransmitter
called adenosine.

When caffeine replaces adenosine, the brain is more reactive to stimulants,
such as noise and light, which is why a person often feels more alert and
talkative after consuming caffeine.

A LINK TO ANXIETY

The effect of caffeine on mood depends on the amount consumed and the
individual's dependence and tolerance. For those who have caffeine only
occasionally, low doses of 20 to 200 mg usually produce a positive mood.

For daily consumers, this positive mood is associated more with the relief from
symptoms like fatigue and lethargy that are so often experienced when caffeine
is withdrawn. Larger doses of caffeine (200 mg or greater) have been associated
with increased anxiety and nervousness.

Some evidence indicates that chocolate may temporarily improve mood. Chocolate
contains high levels of sugar, which increases levels of serotonin, and also
contains fat, which is associated with endorphin release. The caffeine in
chocolate can provide a temporary stimulant effect.

ALCOHOL AS INTENSIFIER


Despite a common myth that alcohol is a mood elevator, unlike caffeine, it
actually acts as a depressant in the body. The notion that alcohol elevates
mood rather than depresses it probably stems from the fact that after a few
drinks, many people begin to lose their inhibitions and appear happier and more
outgoing.

A negative emotional state before drinking can affect the way a person responds
to alcohol. Feeling angry or sad and then drinking, for example, often only
ends up intensifying these emotions.

Studies to determine exactly how alcohol affects the brain are ongoing. We do
know that alcohol changes mood chemically, relaxing brain signals that control
thinking and judgment. It increases levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter
that affects brain processes controlling movement, emotional response and other
abilities.

Serotonin is also thought to play an important role in how the brain reacts to
alcohol. Neurotransmitters connect signals from one nerve to the next, allowing
the signal to flow smoothly. Alcohol interferes with this process, reducing the
natural flow in the brain, which in turn, depresses both mental and physical
capabilities.

Just as with caffeine, some people experience withdrawal symptoms when they
stop consuming alcohol. These symptoms are most likely to occur with those who
drink heavily or who consume alcohol frequently and can include anxiety,
depression, fatigue, headache, irritability, shakiness, sweating and nausea.
Severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include fever, blackouts,
hallucinations, agitation and convulsions.
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source: St-Louis Post Dispatch

 

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    on October 9, 2008 at 5:25 AM