Do you suffer from the "jitters" after drinking coffee?
Learn more about the science behind coffee jitters and how to avoid them!
What Causes The Coffee Jitters?
Many people experience the jitters after consuming caffeinated coffee or coffee-based beverages.
The jitters refers to a physical sensation of feeling a rush then sudden crash of energy. This sensation can make many people feel unsettled or make it hard to concentrate.
The Science of The Coffee Jitters
The science of the jitters is all down to the chemical profile of coffee beans.
Coffee beans contain many complex molecules such as the chemical compound caffeine and acids chlorogenic acid, pyrogallol, N-alkanoyl-hydroxytriptamides and catechol. These chemicals are naturally produced by, or bi-products of, the coffee plant and perform a range of functions.
Caffeine, for example, is the coffee plant's natural defense mechanism, produced by a mutated enzyme N-methyltransferase, typically found in most plants. Caffeine leaches into the surrounding soil as leaves from the plant drop and are decomposed into the soil. Caffeine is toxic to other plants, which prevents other plants from growing around the coffee plant and competing for sunlight.
Each of the natural substances found in coffee are absorbed by the body in different ways when consumed. Caffeine, in particular, plays a part in triggering the jitters.
Effects of Caffeine on The Body
Caffeine acts like a natural stimulant for the nervous system. It blocks the effects of naturally-produced neuromodulator adenosine, linked to drowsiness, by acting on a chemical called phosphodiesterase (PDE) at a cellular level. Phosphodiesterase acts on adenosine in the cells to prevent it from conducting signals across the body such as the feeling of tiredness.
Instead, caffeine stimulates the body into "fight or flight" mode by boosting alertness through the central nervous pathway and encouraging more blood to be transported around the body. This can also lead to higher blood pressure.
By increasing the heart's contractions and general blood flow caffeine can, in some instances, lead to palpitations or even heart problems when consumed in sufficient quantity.
These palpitations are one of the unwanted sensations of the jitters. Similarly by stimulating the body into "fight or flight" mode, caffeine can trigger unwanted feelings of anxiety, stress or over-stimulation that paradoxically prevent people from feeling focused.
How Long Do The Jitters Last For?
The majority of these effects are felt within the first hour after ingesting caffeine. In fact caffeine hits the bloodstream within five minutes of consuming it!
Symptoms of the jitters can then last for several hours. The exact length and severity of the coffee jitters are down to the quantity of caffeine ingested and the body's ability to produce an enzyme: CYP1A2, whose production is regulated by a particular gene, to metabolize caffeine.
In the United States, the average coffee drinker consumes around 206-437mg of caffeine a day, which equates to 1-3 cups a day depending on how the coffee has been brewed. The amount of caffeine that's considered "safe" to drink is in this range, though it's possible to consume more without adverse side effects according to your physiology.
For more details about guidelines for consuming caffeine, see our earlier post on the subject.
Does All Caffeine Cause The Jitters?
Not necessarily! While other plants, such as tea, also produce caffeine differences in its chemical composition lead to different results when consumed. Those results are down to brew method, your physiology and the chemical structure of the caffeine.
Similarly outside processes, such as fermentation, can result in caffeinated coffee that's less likely to cause the jitters too.
Theine is structurally the same molecule as caffeine in coffee, however the tea molecule is bonded more tightly to other substances in the plant. As a result it takes longer for the caffeine in tea to be absorbed into the body, leading to a more gradual release of energy.
The rate at which the theine to be metabolized is down to the same genetic differences that cause some people to respond better or worse to caffeine in coffee beans.
Similarly differences in the way coffee and tea are brewed lead to variations in caffeine levels. Though tea leaves contain more caffeine, far fewer leaves are required by dry weight than with coffee to produce a brew.
The unique fermentation process naturally converts caffeine in the coffee beans into caffeine that's chemically closer to theine. We're excited about using natural fermentation to make coffee a jitters-free experience for good!
We hope you found this overview of the coffee jitters insightful. To learn more about the science of caffeine, coffee or our work with natural fermentation, please visit our blog.
If you'd like to taste the results of our work with fermentation and coffee, stop by our store to pick up a bottle of Cultured Coffee!