Caffeine

I am just coming down from that finals rush that us university students are all so accustomed to. Those long nights of studying and early mornings to keep studying – it gets tiring. A lot of students have a particular molecule to thank for getting them through those long days: caffeine. Whether it’s coffee, or energy drinks, students can be seen anywhere on campus chugging down these caffeinated substances. But how does this particular substance work to keep the students active and awake?

What is Caffeine?

Caffeine is a purine alkaloid, which is a particular type of chemical compound. It is found organically in Coffea arabica and Camellia sinsensis.

Coffea arabicaCamellia sinsensis

Coffea arabica is the source of coffee, while Camellia sinsensis is the source of tea.

How does caffeine affect our systems?

Caffeine can be completely absorbed by the stomach and small intestine within 45 minutes, and it takes around 3 to 4 hours just to remove half of the consumed caffeine from your system.

Caffeine stimulates our central nervous system (CNS), which is composed of our brain and spinal cord. By stimulating the CNS, the caffeine molecules fight against drowsiness and helps keep you alert. It does all of this by preventing a nucleoside, named adenosine (which is found in our DNA!), from binding to its receptors in the brain.

Adenosine usually suppresses the CNS when it binds to its receptors; this leads to general drowsiness. When caffeine binds these receptors, adenosine can no longer interact with the brain receptors which leads to a decrease in drowsiness (or increase in alertness!). Another result of caffeine binding these receptors is the stimulation of other neurotransmitters that also lead to an increase in your ability to concentrate and stay awake. These neurotransmitters include: norepinephrine, dopamine, acetylcholine and serotonin (which will be explored later).

An interesting fact about caffeine is that its half life,which is the time it takes to remove half of the consumed substance from your system, can be shortened by one’s smoking. So if you’re smoking, you’re going to need more caffeine than the average person to get relatively the same jolt of energy.

And that’s a brief summary of caffeine and its effects! Now you know how exactly caffeine works to become your savior through those long nights. Thanks caffeine, on behalf of all of us sleep-deprived students.

Stomach Flu aka Gastroenteritis

There seems to be a bug going around, causing everyone to be at home, sick to their stomachs – literally. There are lot of bugs in this world, but the stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, is not caused by any one of them. So what does cause the stomach flu and why is it so easy for us to catch it? Let’s first look at the difference between the stomach flu and what the term ‘flu’ is commonly associated with now-a-days.

Stomach Flu vs. the Flu

Sounds ridiculous that the two should be different considering they both have the same terms, but the stomach flu and what we refer to as “the flu” are completely different conditions. The flu refers to Influenza viruses, which we talked about last week. The stomach flu, however, can be caused by viruses, bacteria or other endoparasites. Want to know more? Here’s a list of the specific organisms that can cause the stomach flu.

So, what does ‘Gastroenteritis’ mean?

Gastro is the Greek word for ‘stomach’, while Entero is Greek for ‘intestine’. The suffix -itis indicates that the disease  is characterized by an inflammation of some sort. Therefore, Gastroenteritis is the inflammation of the stomach and the intestine, the inflammation being caused by your immune system in response to the harmful organism. This inflammation of the stomach and intestine can lead to digestive problems, which is why you experience diarrhea or vomit when you have the stomach flu.

How do we get infected?

Each endoparasite works differently. The viruses that cause the stomach flu act in the same manner as influenza. Bacteria are able to use the nutrients we have in our bodies to sustain themselves; the parasitic bacteria, however, release their waste products from the digestion of the nutrients into our bodies. Some of these waste products can be toxic to our body, which causes our immune system to react via the inflammation of  the stomach and intestine.

What are some symptoms?

The symptoms are all signs of your immune system trying to stop this infection from further harming you. You won’t always experience all of the symptoms, it really depends on how dangerous the endoparasite is and how long it takes your immune system to recognize it.

Symptoms usually show around 1-2 days after being infected.

Here are some common symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Dehydration
  • Cramps
  • Slight to noticeable fever (of 37.2°C /99°F or higher)

Viral infections can last a couple of days, while bacterial infections can last for a week, sometimes more depending on the severity of the infection.

Tips for coping

REHYDRATE: You’re going to lose a lot of water from vomiting and/or diarrhea. For children, they should be given drinks with electrolytes in them. Adults tend to have more electrolytes, so they can cope with drinking sports beverages like Gatorade or Powerade. Water can be a little helpful for the purposes of rehydration but you also lose a lot of electrolytes and minerals when you vomit and/or suffer from diarrhea, so sports beverages are the better alternative. Just make sure you drink in small amounts; large amounts can lead to vomiting.

SUGAR=NO-NO: Sugar is just going to irritate you more and make your diarrhea worse. It will not help replace the minerals you lose. So put those juice boxes away and stay away from your soda/pop!

EATING: Eating small amounts of food is suggested if you’re not vomiting excessively. Some foods you can eat are bread, cereal, vegetables, potatoes or apples. Stay away from dairy products for a while and just remember to take it easy on your stomach!

MEDICAL ATTENTION: Unlike the Flu, the Stomach flu doesn’t have any vaccines. You just have to wait it out and let your body work against the infection, but make sure you see your doctor so they remain informed!

A.D.A.M., Inc. 2013. Viral gastroenteritis. PubMed Health. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001298/&gt;. March 14, 2013.

Harding, A. 2013. 13 Things you should know about the stomach flu. Health.com. <http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20568435_last,00.html>. March 14, 2013.

Gardiner, J. 2006. Gastroenteritis (stomach flu) symptoms, causes, treatments. WebMD.com. <http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/gastroenteritis&gt; March 14, 2013.