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This is your brain on caffeine

You know that caffeine perks you up when you’re feeling sluggish, gives you a couple extra hours of work when you need to pull an all-nighter, or feels like the perfect and necessary component to a morning routine. You know what that cup of joe or energy drink feels like, but do you know what the drug is actually doing inside your body?

Red Bulls are notorious for giving you energy, but enjoy up to five for the recommend dose of caffeine.
Photo by Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

Thanks to a video produced by the American Chemical Society (ACS), you can gain new understanding of how caffeine works, and particularly what caffeine does to the brain. The ACS also recommends safe dosages of caffeine, and exactly how many cups of coffee that equals.

When the liver metabolizes caffeine, it breaks the caffeine molecule into three separate metabolites, each with their own useful effects on the human body. While in the brain, these molecules bind to adenosine receptors, blocking adenosine from reaching its own receptors. Adenosine is that pesky enzyme responsible for slowing down nerve activity and telling your body it’s time to go to sleep. Since the molecules for caffeine and adenosine are similar, caffeine binds easily to adenosine receptors.

If you’re still awake, thank your morning coffee. If you need a minute to remember your high school chemistry class, have some Red Bull.

Since caffeine blocks adenosine from reaching receptors, it heightens brain activity. The metabolites also contribute to brain and body function. Theobromine increases oxygen flow to the brain, paraxanthine increases the rate of fat breakdown, and theophylline increases your heart rate and ability to concentrate, according to the ACS.

To summarize, caffeine is one powerful drug that increases your ability to stay awake and function. However, you’ve probably had one too many energy drinks and felt agitated or jittery.

The ACS recommends 400 milligrams of caffeine per day as the average safe dose for adults. You don’t need to count milligrams of caffeine like you do calories, but just remember that 400 milligrams of caffeine is about three 8-ounce cups of coffee, five Red Bulls or eight cups of black tea. While it will take about 10 grams of caffeine to kill you, remember that those three cups of joe will give you optimal results, so don’t reach for a fourth cup.

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