A Surprising Physiological Reaction to The Odour of Coffee. 1

Coffee and the amygdala.

Photo Credit Allan Ajifo

A week or so ago I wrote my first review of Pact Coffee, a UK based speciality coffee company who roast coffee and send to their customers not long after. In this review I mentioned how the aroma of the coffee surprised me, and I assume that this is to do with how freshly roasted it was.

Well since then I’ve enjoyed taking in the aroma of the coffee whenever I’ve opened the pouch, and I’ve began to notice that it has an effect on me. Not just in terms of “hmm that’s a nice smell”, something deeper than that, a physiological reaction to inhaling the aroma of the coffee.

When this happens I feel instantly more relaxed, slightly light headed, and I have a general good feeling throughout my body which, as far as I can remember from my teens, is similar to the effect that cannabis had on me (only without the munchies and the paranoia).

This feeling lasts for a good few minutes, and it’s much more noticeable than the reaction from the odour when brewing coffee. By the way, speaking of “weed”, I went through a phase in my late teens until I smoked so much in one go that I was violently ill. Since then I’ve not been able to so much as walk past someone with a joint within the past 20 years or so without feeling sick, so nowadays my only drugs of choice are caffeine, alcohol and the occasional paracetamol.

So I’ve been trying to figure out what this reaction might be, and as an experiment I bought some ground roasted coffee beans from a supermarket, this is a very well-known brand but I won’t mention their name so they can’t sue me for something ;-). This coffee didn’t have any noticeable reaction on me when I opened the foil bag, so I’ve assumed that whatever this is must be to do with how freshly roasted and ground the coffee is that I have been getting from pact.

I’ve been looking into this further to try to ascertain what’s actually happening to me,  and from what I can understand, the aroma of the freshly ground coffee is tickling my amygdala… 

I’m not being rude by the way ;-), the amygdala is a structure within the brain which has direct neural connection with the olfactory system. The amygdala is known to regulate a number of activities in the brain including the immune system and the endocrine system. The endocrine system is responsible for hormone production and secretion, and it is thought that this system affects most of the cells and organs of our bodies.

It’s Just a Feeling which help people with anxiety issues, state that the Amygdala acts like a thermostat for the emotions, and instantly induces from us the correct physiological response for the given situation. It is responsible for the fight or flight response, instantly instigating the release of adrenaline when we need to leg it or fight for our lives, but the amygdala doesn’t realise that in 2015 when we activate this response it’s in reaction to conflict at a roundabout, or an argument with a colleague, and not being stalked by a sabre toothed tiger…

This system produces a wide range of drugs, for want of a better word (I can’t spell pharmaceuticals), and of particular interest in this conversation is the hypothalamus, which creates dopamine. Given that the amygdala has direct connection to the olfactory system, and the ability to create dopamine, I’m wondering if for some reason the odour of freshly roasted coffee is causing my body to instantly create dopamine, which is giving me the feeling of being “doped”.

The amygdala is also thought to create odor evoked memories which instantly put us into a particular mood (with the cooperation of the endocrine system) in accordance with that memory. So what I’m thinking is that for whatever reason, I associate this odour of freshly ground coffee beans, with this particular state?

This is a question rather than a statement, as I’m certainly no biology expert! I would really like to know more about this though, so I’m going to ask a few experts, including the folk at It’s Just a Feeling and Deepak Chopra. Deepak Chopra was an endocrinologist, and I do recall having read or listened to material from him in the past in which he’s discussed the power of the body to put us into whatever the desired state may be. I am going to attempt to interview him on this to see if he can shed any light on it; he’s a very busy man and I’m sure every man and his dog wants to interview him, so don’t hold your breath, but I’ll be really interested in what he has to say about his if I can get hold of him.

One final word on this, just to say that if you are imagining that I’m typing this one handed with a pouch of pact coffee constantly held to my face with my other hand, no that’s not the case! I purposely don’t do it often for the simple reason that I do actually think that this is something I could get addicted to!

I broke my arm 10 years ago, and was given gas and air both in A & E and and in the hospital a few days later when I’d had surgery to plate the bone, and I became so dependent on it (Entinox, a half and half mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen), that they had to practically prise my fingers off the mask when they decided to change my pain killers! This was mainly because I wouldn’t let them give me morphine, as it makes me sick and I hate being sick. So I am aware of how easy it is to become hooked on something which instantly puts the body into a particularly good feeling state, and I would’t willingly become addicted to anything – he says, while gagging for another coffee.

And on that note, I’m off to make a brew.





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