Coffee and Your Brain
Thank you for coming back!
In my first blog post, I briefly touched on how coffee benefits the body. However, as promised I would like to focus on the benefits of coffee consumption in relation to the human brain and memory improvement. Also, we will review scientific studies/trials and end results concerning this topic.
Why is this important? Well, if we want to maintain a healthy mind and body, it is good to be aware of the chemical effects that comes from consuming coffee. Also, we should know what quantity of caffeine is needed for optimum results. Finally, we will learn what is required on our part to maintain those positive benefits (long-term).
In this post, we will merely skim the surface of the research and scientific trials. For more information on the results and in depth analysis, please go to http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v17/n2/full/nn.3623.html. After reviewing the results, we will see that scientific research confirms that certain components of coffee stimulate the brain, resulting in cognitive-enhancing effects.
The possibility of improving memory is great news for coffee drinkers but another question comes to mind – how long do those effects last on the brain? This is a question that stumped Michael A. Yassa, assistant professor (psychological and brain sciences) at John Hopkins University. (For more information please go to http://hub.jhu.edu/2014/01/12/caffeine-enhances-memory/ .)
So he decided to examine this closer by delving into the hippocampus, which is the memory center of the human brain (located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain). This important part of the brain (hippocampus) is considered the “switchbox” for all memories (short and long term).
How the Study Unfolded
Yassa set out and conducted a double-blind trial. First, he recruited people who did not usually drink caffeinated beverages (like coffee). Then he took salivary samples from the group prior to the experimental dosage in order to measure their caffeine levels.
Next, one half of the group got a placebo and the other half got 200-milligram caffeine dosage (in tablet form). The entire group received the doses after studying a set of pictures.
After 24 hours, salivary samples were taken again.
The Big Test
Finally, both groups were tested on their capacity to recognize pictures from the previous day’s study session. For the test, some of the pictures were the same (as those from 1st day), some were new pictures, and some were similar but not the same.
Yassa’s team noted that more people from the caffeine group were able to “correctly identify the new images as similar to previously viewed images rather than erroneously citing them as the same.”
He commented “If we used a standard recognition memory task without these tricky similar items, we would have found no effect of caffeine…. However, using these items requires the brain to make a more difficult discrimination—what we call pattern separation, which seems to be the process that is enhanced by caffeine in our case.”
The brain’s ability to recognize the difference between two similar but not identical items, called pattern separation, reflects a deeper level of memory retention, the researchers said.
But How Long Do Those Results Last?
Yassa commented the following at the end of the experiment:
“We’ve always known that caffeine has cognitive-enhancing effects, but its particular effects on strengthening memories and making them resistant to forgetting has never been examined in detail in humans….We report for the first time a specific effect of caffeine on reducing forgetting over 24 hours.”
My Take Away
The best part of this scientific study is that you don’t have to do 3 hours of exercise or take multiple supplements to improve your memory. Something as simple as drinking your morning coffee is all you really need to keep “brain fog” at bay. Keeping moderation in mind – next time you want to put your brain to the test and want memory (retention) at its best, it is OK to reach for the coffee. Your brain won’t forget to thank you.
My next blog post will take a look at the social benefits of drinking coffee. We will see how a simple coffee shop can be the cornerstone for building a culture/community. Also, we will discover how a sense of belonging to a coffee community can positively impact people. It will be exciting to explore the groups and networks that have etched out a place in the Las Vegas.
I hope that you will join me on this upcoming coffee house journey of discovery. Until then, please enjoy this video on how to prepare coffee with a French Press!
This research was supported by grants number P50 AG05146 and R01 AG034613 from the National Institute on Aging as well as CHE-1213438 from the National Science Foundation.
Additional authors, all from Johns Hopkins, are: Elizabeth Murray, a research program coordinator in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences; John Toscano, professor in the Department of Chemistry; Gizem Kecili, a graduate student also in the Chemistry Department; and Allen Chang, Maria Ly, and Joseph Watabe, all undergraduates in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.