Tuesday 12 November 2013

Adenosine Receptors and Xanthine Alkaloids

The average morning anxiety is often precipitated by an habitual visit to the coffee shop where the lineup is anywhere from 10 to 12 deep unless you’re running late. Then the lineup is out the door. If those conditions occur, you are forced to implement a formula for calculating the level of necessity divided by the validity of an alternative source multiplied by additional time:

N = l over v times T
The result is invariably the same: N = L (late).

If only customers ahead of you were just procuring a plain old cup of joe, paying for it with some loose change and jumping back in the car to get to work by nine, but oh no. Instead, each one of those very kind, generous and thoughtful people is performing the huge favour of getting a box of custom-selected donuts for co-workers plus an array of coffees with infinite variables including cream, milk, sugar or sweetener in mulltiple combinations and degrees and checking it twice, plus a steeped tea and an iced cap for the new kid in the mail room and a frozen hot chocolate for the receptionist. Payment is made with plastic identification requiring transatlantic handshaking with an anonymous, numbered bank account in Switzerland.

The alternative, of course, is to join the office coffee club. One of the advantages is you get to sleep in for an extra hour every day. One of the disadvantages is the tendency for the club to run out of supplies. The coffee shop almost never runs out of anything and no one ever leaves the empty pot on the heating element all night. The coffee shop also has an unlimited supply of clean cups.

If it's such a hassle, why drink coffee at all? One reason is coffee contains caffeine, which is a legal psychoactive stimulant affecting the central nervous system. Other psychoactive substances include cocaine, mescaline, psilocybin, meth, cannabis, hash and LSD. These are usually not available at your local coffee shop. For the most part, they are “regulated” and considered illegal here in North America (except for coffee).

Caffeine is a xanthine alkaloid and is an inhibitor of adenosine receptors in the brain which suppress neural activity and blood flow. In other words, without coffee your brain slows down. Not only that, once your central nervous system gets used to the presence of this psychoactive stimulant, your system increases the number of adenosine receptors to counteract the drug. This reduces the effect of caffeine so you become more tolerant, but also, if you don’t get coffee, you will experience withdrawal symptoms including irritability and headaches. So you can see why many off-the-shelf pain relievers incorporate caffeine.

Coincidentally, all coffee is grown within 1,000 miles of the equator, but the biggest consumers live in northern countries such as Finland, Denmark and The Netherlands who consume almost three times the amount of Canada and the USA (per capita). Latest market statistics indicate a healthy business worldwide, notwithstanding individual companies with billions of dollars in sales annually.

If you don’t want to interrupt your drive to work and you don’t want to join the office coffee club, but you still have to have your java, you could always do what past generations have done in the past...get a thermos.

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