Regular, Decaf, Grande, Skinny, Caramel, Vanilla, Venti… any size, any flavor, coffee is all around us, epecially as college students. Whether you wait in the endless Starbucks line in the HUB or make your daily cup with your Keurig, you need your coffee, right? Is coffee that much of a necessity or has it just become routine? According to Havard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 54% of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee daily.
Joseph Stromberg from the Smithsonian website describes how caffeine in coffee is addictive. Caffeine, the world’s most psychoactive drug, is absorbed through the small intestine and dissolved into the bloodstream. Due to its water and fat solubility, it can penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Thus, sending it into your brain where it causes those lovely reactions. Those reactions are from the caffeine acting like an adenosine molecule, which over time can produce tiredness. The caffeine blocks these molecules and BAM: energy and alertness. As the brain gets used to this amount of caffeine on a daily basis is begins producing more adenosine; the more adenosine the caffeine has to block, the higher the tolerance, thus answering our question as to whether or not it is a necessity. People like Stephen R. Braun, who is also mentioned in that Smithsonian article, believe caffeine isn’t a stimulant on its own, but rather “enables other stimulants to run wild” as he says here.
So how can Decaffeinated, with less caffeine as told by it’s name, be as effective in keeping people alert? University of California at Berkeley states that decaf coffee 97% less caffeine than regular coffee. With only 3% of the caffeine obviously the jitters are nearly eliminated from those who are accustomed to coffee. However, if these coffee drinkers have built a tolerance to regular coffee, decaf will surely not match that level. Like any addiction, it would be difficult for them to cut it out of their lives completely. Those with a high tolerance find that they are less attentive if they switch to decaf coffee. Does this mean decaf is merely acting as a placebo because it has such a low amount of caffeine?
Olivia D. Songster in her state science fair experiment studied the effects of placebo with different forms of coffee. She took twenty subjects, made them do various tasks before and after they drank the “coffee”, and tested them twice a day on separate days. After the first tests were given, the participants were able to discuss how they were feeling; those with more caffeine began to have flushed faces and other symptoms. Soon, those who had decaffeinated claimed they felt the same way. This leads me to wonder if they actually felt those effects or believed they were feeling them only because the people around them were. They may feel that they should be happier and alert due to their caffeinated drinks, so they convince themselves they are.
While Stephen Braun believes coffee is an enabler, Olivia believes more in the Placebo effects of coffee. I’m left here wondering whether a third variable could be the cause of greater alertness or flushed faces. Maybe some people got a greater amount of sleep, others may be stressed about being experimented on, some might have other health issues that allow for those things to happen, I’m not sure. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, just a college student who wonders about coffee.