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Anastasia Hill

Java Jolts

Five ways caffeine affects your body

When it comes to stimulants, caffeine is king — and American adults are proof. Studies show that nearly 80% of us use it daily. From store shelves to our favorite restaurants, this naturally occurring drug is in abundant supply.

Whether we drink it piping hot in coffee or chilled in our favorite soft drinks, we rely on it's magic to keep us going. Here's a look at how that magic works — and how it affects our bodies.

  1. Boosts mood
    Caffeine increases your levels of dopamine, commonly known as the “feel-good” chemical. No wonder some call it “happiness in a cup
  2. Can boost your heart rate — for good and bad
    Caffeine's stimulants can make your heart beat faster, which helps perk you up. But that elevated heart rate can be dangerous if you have an underlying health condition or if you drink too much at one time.
  3. Can help treat pain
    Caffeine blocks some signals that make your body feel pain. That also allows it to help painkillers such as ibuprofen work more effectively.
  4. Affects your sleep
    Yes, caffeine can wake you up. But too much of it — particularly as you get close to bedtime — can disrupt your sleep. Given that, it's a good idea to avoid caffeine at least six hours before bed.
  5. Boosts alertness
    Caffeine blocks adenosine, the brain chemical that promotes sleep. It also helps your body release adrenaline, the hormone that speeds up your heart rate and helps prep you for stressful or dangerous situations.

The bottom line

The FDA says 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is generally safe for most people. As a frame of reference, that's about four cups of brewed coffee. But keep in mind: Those are general guidelines only. Be sure to check with your doctor to figure out how much — if any — caffeine is right for you.

Anastasia Hill is the associate editor of Be.Well.