In an article published in January in The Conversation, Prof. Thomas Merritt of Laurentian University explains the biology of coffee, one of the most popular drinks in the world.

“The main biologically active ingredients in coffee are caffeine (a stimulant) and a suite of antioxidants,” he writes.

Caffeine is a powerful stimulant so all you need is a cup of coffee to wake you up. In fact, caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive drug in the world, working as a stimulant by blocking adenosine, an organic compound that promotes sleep.

Prof. Merritt says, “Caffeine and adenosine have similar ring structures. Caffeine acts as a molecular mimic, filling and blocking the adenosine receptor, preventing the body’s natural ability to be able a rest when it’s tired.”

This adenosine blocking is also the reason why having too much coffee leaves you feeling jittery or sleepless. You can temporarily postpone fatigue with coffee. However, excessive consumption could lead to serious effects such as anxiety or insomnia. In fact, studies have suggested a possible link between drinking coffee and insomnia.

Prof. Merritt explains, “Different people respond to caffeine differently. At least some of this variation is from having different forms of that adenosine receptor, the molecule that caffeine binds to and blocks. There are likely other sites of genetic variation as well.”

Does coffee contain antioxidants? Prof. Merritt says, “Things actually start out pretty straightforward. Metabolic processes produce the energy necessary for life, but they also create waste, often in the form of oxidized molecules that can be harmful in themselves or in damaging other molecules.”

“Antioxidants are a broad group of molecules that can scrub up dangerous waste; all organisms produce antioxidants as part of their metabolic balance,” he adds. “It is unclear if supplementing our diet with additional antioxidants can augment these natural defenses, but that hasn’t stopped speculation.”

“Surprisingly, the answer is again a resounding maybe,” he explains. For more immolation, read the article titled “The biology of coffee, one of the world’s most popular drinks” published on January 22, 2020, on The Conversation.