Caffeine and performancePrint this page
Caffeine and alertness
Caffeine’s ability to enhance alertness and sustain attention has been well documented. The primary mode of action of caffeine as a mild central nervous system stimulant is related to its action as an adenosine receptor antagonist. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) concluded that a cause and effect relationship has been established between a 75mg serving of caffeine and both increased attention and alertness22.
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Caffeine and sports performance
Caffeine is also known to have ergogenic benefits and thus can improve physical performance during endurance exercise. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recognized that a cause and effect relationship has been established for caffeine intake and increased endurance performance and endurance capacity (in both cases for 3 mg/kg body weight 1 hour before exercise), and reduction in perceived exertion (4 mg/kg body weight 1 hour before exercise)23. The effects of caffeine on short-term high intensity exercise remain inconclusive.
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Long-term effects of Caffeine on brain function
Caffeine acts at the brain level by antagonizing the A1 and A2A adenosine receptors. When caffeine is absorbed in the form of coffee, some other constituents of coffee like polyphenol antioxidants act themselves on various pathways and might play an additional protective role.
Caffeine and dependence
There has been much debate surrounding the question of whether caffeine is an addictive substance and whether cessation of consumption will result in withdrawal like symptoms. Caffeine does fit the definition of habituation, which in simple terms means to consume something in a regular pattern. Habituation and addiction are very different. In addition, a substance has to fulfill 4 out of 7 different criteria to be considered a drug of dependence, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). Since caffeine is a common part of the diet, not costly and easily obtainable, several criteria are not relevant and only a limited number of them can apply.
Among those, in 2013 the APA added caffeine withdrawal to the list of recognized conditions in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V)20. It is of note that only a subset of the population of coffee/caffeine consumers suffers withdrawal symptoms (headache, reduced alertness, and drowsiness). These symptoms generally begin about 12-24 hours after sudden cessation of caffeine consumption and reach a peak after 20-48 hours. A gradual reduction in consumption over a period of days does not result in these symptoms. In addition, research has shown that caffeine does not activate the pathways in the brain that are related to addiction and reward in opposition to ‘hard’ drugs, therefore it can be concluded that caffeine is not an addictive substance21.
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