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What do you want to know about breathing? Answered in our newsletter

"Brain in the News" is a weekly commentary on how brain science relates to the news. The brain is involved in everything we do. Wherever there are human stories the brain is involved. From the impact of war and natural disasters on the brain to drug abuse scandals to courtroom dramas to politics, the brain is in the news, and you can read about it here.

What Does Caffeine Really Do To Your Brain?

Do you need a morning cup of joe to wake up and need sodas or energy drinks to power through the afternoon? Have you ever wondered what all that caffeine is doing to your brain?

In my upcoming book Change Your Brain, Change Your Body, I cover the subject of caffeine in great detail. Caffeine works in the brain by messing with a natural process involving a chemical called adenosine, which is involved in sleep, and adenosine receptors. When adenosine is produced in the brain, it attaches to adenosine receptors, and this makes the brain’s blood vessels to dilate, causes neurons to slow down, and induces drowsiness.

When you drink caffeine, however, the adenosine receptors mistake the caffeine for adenosine and bind to it. When caffeine is attached to the adenosine receptors, it does just the opposite of adenosine. It constricts the brain’s blood vessels, speeds up neuronal activity, and signals your body to go on high alert by producing adrenaline.

This gives you that java jolt, which makes your heart beat faster, your breathing become more shallow, and your muscles tense up. It also boosts dopamine levels, which activates the pleasure centers in your brain.

The bad news is that when the effects of the caffeine wear off, you feel sluggish. So you consume more caffeine to re-energize. Soon enough, you are hooked on the stuff. And it may take more and more caffeine to achieve that same feeling.

What happens to the adenosine receptor system when you consume large amounts of caffeine on a regular basis? For years, scientists have assumed that the adenosine receptor system could learn to compensate for the vasoconstrictive effects of the caffeine. Not so, according to a new study from a team of researchers at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.

The Wake Forest researchers used brain imaging to test the effect of low, moderate, and high caffeine intake on cerebral blood flow. What they found is that habitually high caffeine intake (about 950mg a day) results in diminished blood flow to the brain, showing that the adenosine receptor system, in fact, does NOT learn to compensate for the effects of caffeine.

After years of studying brain scans, I can assure you that reduced cerebral blood flow leads to brain drain. It lowers cognitive function and can exacerbate emotional and mental health problems. It can also wreak havoc with your sleep system and reduce the amount of deep sleep you get at night, leaving you feeling even more fatigued.

If you’re addicted to caffeine, try to wean yourself off it. If you want to avoid the fatigue and headaches that come from caffeine withdrawal, do it slowly by reducing your intake each week.

Boosting dopamine with natural treatments — such as intense aerobic exercise, green tea or supplements like rhodiola — can also help. Other supplements, such as NeuroRest, that promote relaxation and sleep can help reset your sleep cycle.

To Your Brain Health,

Daniel G. Amen, MD
CEO, Amen Clinics, Inc.
Distinguished Fellow, American Psychiatric Association
Develop your breathing and need less to no caffeine.
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The breathing improvement techniques, practices and products outlined in this publication are extremely gentle, and should, if carried out as described, be beneficial
to your overall physical and psychological health. If you have any serious medical or psychological problem, however, such as heart disease, high blood pressure,
cancer, mental illness, or recent abdominal or chest surgery, you should consult your health professional before undertaking these practices.