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Caffeine and dopamine - Feel good facts

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You have probably heard of the connection of dopamine and caffeine and maybe you have even made jokes about needing your dopamine fix in the morning. But do you really understand what is happening to your body when you drink a cup of coffee or take an energy shot? By understanding caffeine’s effects on your body, and your dopamine levels, you can better understand how to incorporate it into your life effectively.

Here are some quick facts you should know:

  • Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which activates sections of the brain known as pleasure centres
  • Caffeine increases dopamine levels and triggers pleasure responses in the brain
  • Caffeine also blocks adenosine receptors which increases alertness

Dopamine 101

Firstly, it is important to ask; what is dopamine? Unfortunately, the answer might not be so simple. Over 110,000 research papers have been written on dopamine in the last 60 years, but there is still controversy between neuroscientists over what exactly dopamine is. What can be said however, is that dopamine is a neurotransmitter which means that it is a chemical that transfers signals and messages in between the various nerve cells or neurons in the brain. Not very many neurons generate dopamine, however when dopamine neurons are activated they release dopamine into the brain.

What releases dopamine?

Numerous studies have been conducted on what events or stimuli will release dopamine into the brain and why. Dopamine is often referred to as a pleasure or a reward mechanism. And a study in 2004 found that when an individual experiences an adverse or negative event, dopamine transmitters are actually blocked from generating dopamine.

Some experiences which will cause an individual to release dopamine include:

  • Caffeine
  • Eating when hungry
  • Gambling
  • Sexual activity
  • Drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and opiates
  • Social media

Studies have found that most multicellular animals also have dopamine neurotransmitters; even animals like jellyfish, molluscs and corals have dopamine transmitters. Dopamine is essential to helping all animals learn, grow and develop through a reward system.

Oftentimes when we hear about dopamine in the news, it is about social media activating the same centres in our brains that gambling does, or it is about how the use of illegal drugs overloads dopamine receptors in our brains. While this is true, it is important also to remember that dopamine exists in some of the simplest invertebrates and life forms. And that, if it is not abused, it is an essential chemical in our brains and helps us learn and grow throughout our lives.

Dopamine and caffeine

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Studies have found that caffeine increases dopamine activity in the human brain and leads to us feeling happier, more centred and more alert after the ingestion of caffeine. Caffeine perks us up because it blocks adenosine, a different neurotransmitter which makes us feel sleepy and fatigued. When caffeine blocks adenosine and boosts the brain’s production of dopamine, it makes an individual feel more alert and energised, even when they are already well-rested. An additional effect is that the release of dopamine activates the brain’s pleasure centres and leads to an individual having an improved, sunnier mood.

Read more on our blog page to get insights into the benefits of caffeine, how to stay energised and how you can achieve and maintain your wellness goals.