Coffee is not only a delicious drink, it also has numerous health benefits when consumed in moderation.
In fact, coffee consumption, especially in middle age (55 years and older), has been linked to a lower incidence of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
But can drinking coffee really improve our memory?
Table of Contents
What is caffeine and how does it affect our brain?
Generally speaking, caffeine is an alkaloid that has a stimulating effect on the central nervous system.
In this way, caffeine blocks the receptors for a substance called adenosine, which is found in our brain and is responsible for making us feel sleepy and relaxed.
So, when caffeine levels rise in the blood and reach the brain, we feel more alert and energetic as the effects of adenosine decrease.
That’s why after a cup of coffee you feel ready to do your daily tasks, but what about memory?
Caffeine and memory: what does the science say?
It’s hard to say whether coffee consumption improves coffee drinkers’ memory or whether it actually improves concentration.
However, the results of a study conducted by Johns Hopkins University may hold the key to understanding the effects of coffee consumption on our brain.
The study tested 160 male and female participants who were shown a series of images.
The participants were then divided into two groups.
Within 5 minutes of viewing the images, the first group received a 200mg caffeine pill while the second group received a placebo.
24 hours later, the participants who received the caffeine pill were able to recall a greater number of images than the participants who received the placebo.
Study results and conclusions
After comparing the results of the two groups, the researchers concluded that caffeine consumption was the determining factor in the participants’ performance.
They hypothesized that caffeine might have a positive effect on short-term memory.
However, they found no evidence that caffeine affects concentration.
Aside from this research, there are several precedents that seem to support the hypothesis that caffeine consumption may have some impact on brain function.
Caffeine and Spatial Memory
Another study compared a group of people who regularly consumed coffee with others who did not.
The researchers concluded that participants in both groups’ ability to memorize map-related information improved when they consumed caffeine.
Interestingly, however, those who consumed caffeine regularly performed worse than those who did not drink coffee at all.
To some extent, this contradicts the results of the first study.
Consuming caffeine but with sugar?
However, one study measured the effects of combining caffeine and glucose (sugar).
The participants were divided into 3 smaller groups:
- The first subgroup received a dose of caffeine along with glucose.
- The second subgroup received a caffeine-only dose.
- And the third subgroup received glucose alone or a placebo.
It was found that the reaction time, verbal memory, and attention span improved in participants who took the caffeine-glucose blend compared to those who received caffeine alone, glucose alone, or a placebo.
Caffeine and its effects on the elderly
On the other hand, a study was conducted in 2017 involving more than 676 men over the age of 65 whose caffeine consumption had been tracked for more than a decade.
The idea was to find out if coffee protected them from cognitive decline, and apparently it did.
The researchers found that the men who drank coffee experienced less cognitive decline than those who didn’t drink coffee.
The most important finding, however, was that the number of cups of coffee drunk per day also had an impact on brain protection.
Because the participants who drank 3 cups of coffee a day performed best on the memory tests.
Conversely, those men who admitted to drinking fewer or more cups performed worse.
In contrast, there is other research that questions caffeine’s benefits for memory.
One in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease reviewed several studies on the possible effects of caffeine and its relationship to thinking and memory.
She concluded that if caffeine has any effect on brain function at all, it has little effect on our mood and focus, but not on our memory.
On the other hand, if you want to know more about the effects of coffee on the nervous system, you might be interested in the article “Can coffee help with depression?”.
How can caffeine protect the brain?
As already mentioned, caffeine is the main component of coffee.
One of the effects caffeine has on our brain is that it increases the production of serotonin and acetylcholine.
These two substances have a positive effect on the brain as they help to stabilize the blood-brain barrier, which is the organ’s immune defense.
So, this phenomenon of immune protection appears to result in improved brain function.
In addition, the polyphenols, micronutrients found in coffee, can prevent tissue damage from free radical (metabolic waste) build-up.
It is also believed that the polyphenols can prevent clogging of blood vessels in the brain.
Trigonelline, another substance found in coffee, also has antioxidant effects in the blood vessels, which can help protect blood vessels in the brain and prevent vascular dementia from occurring.
Not all caffeine sources have the same effect
Another study involved women over the age of 65 who had a history of cardiovascular disease.
They therefore had an increased risk of developing vascular dementia, which can lead to cognitive impairment.
The researchers therefore regularly examined the cognitive abilities of the participants and measured the women’s coffee consumption for 5 years.
When the results came in, the researchers found the following:
- The women who consumed a lot of caffeine from coffee rather than soda, energy drinks or pills performed better on cognitive tests than those who reported lower consumption of the alkaloid.
From this it can be concluded that pure coffee without any additives could be the best source of caffeine for beneficial effects on the brain.
Caffeine in energy drinks
Another study looked at whether energy drinks high in caffeine improved cognitive abilities.
For this study, the researchers divided the participants, young people between the ages of 15 and 18, into 3 groups:
- The first group (control group) was given water to drink.
- The second group (placebo group) received sugar-free lemonade.
- And the third group (test group) got an energy drink.
Participants then completed written tests to determine whether mental functions, such as:
- Ability to concentrate
- Ability to learn
- Verbal and numerical reasoning
- Numerical talent
improves after taking some of the drinks.
As expected, no significant differences were found that could be attributed solely to the effect of the energy drink.
Energy drinks are not a good source of caffeine because, while they contain a larger amount of the alkaloid, they are also very high in sugar.
Their consumption is therefore not recommended, especially if they are said to have any benefit for brain function.
What is the connection between caffeine and memory?
The direct link between caffeine consumption and its possible effects on the brain is a question on which there is still no scientific consensus.
While there are numerous clinical studies on the effects of caffeine, we still don’t fully understand how caffeine improves brain function, and memory in particular.
The theory of caffeine and adenosine
On one point, however, several scientists seem to agree: caffeine can block the effects of a molecule called adenosine, which is found in our brain.
Adenosine is therefore responsible for making us feel calm and restful and for being able to fall asleep.
In addition, adenosine appears to have an antagonistic (i.e., blocking) effect on norepinephrine, a hormone that improves memory function.
So, one could argue that according to this theory, caffeine would keep norepinephrine levels at an optimal level for good memory function.
However, more research is needed to better understand the mechanisms by which caffeine affects short- and long-term memory.
How Much Caffeine Should You Consume Per Day?
According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), healthy adults are recommended to limit their daily caffeine intake to 400 mg per day.
So, keep in mind that a cup of coffee contains between 80 and 90 mg of caffeine on average, so you should not consume more than 4 cups of coffee per day.
However, it should be noted that not everyone is equally sensitive or resistant to the effects of caffeine.
So, it’s best to ask your doctor about the safe amount of caffeine for you.
Be careful not to overdo it with the caffeine
On the other hand, there are studies that show a connection between the consumption of large amounts of unfiltered coffee, such as espresso or Turkish coffee, and increased cholesterol levels.
However, there is still no conclusive evidence for this.
Maximize the positive effects of coffee with these measures
While there’s evidence that coffee is actually good for our bodies, there’s no harm in adopting healthy habits that will enhance the effects of this beverage.
So, it would be good if you followed these recommendations.
Back to basics
There are more and more coffee brands, whether independent or from large corporations, offering thousands of alternatives for our everyday coffee.
However, it is healthiest if you prepare the drink yourself.
This way you can choose the ingredients you want and their quality yourself.
Keep in mind that research into the benefits of coffee suggests that traditional black coffee is associated with better brain function.
So, the purer you make your coffee, meaning no sugar or additives, the better.
So, it’s worth reading the complete guide to the nutritional benefits of coffee so you know everything this incredible beverage can do for your body.
Numerous studies point to the importance of good sleep hygiene, that is, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, to establish a pattern.
In this way, the circadian or sleep cycle is optimally organized.
It’s also important to determine how sensitive or resistant you are to coffee. This means that you should be aware of the effects of the drink on yourself.
This information is very important because if you are sensitive to caffeine, you should avoid drinking coffee just before bedtime.
Keep your mind active
Learning a new language, reading books regularly, and playing a musical instrument are all activities that improve brain function.
These activities have even been linked to delaying the onset of symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and others.
If you examine the scientific evidence for coffee, you will find that the benefits of consuming this delicious beverage outweigh the negative effects.
However, the claim that coffee alone improves memory is untrue, to say the least.
In order to get any benefit on brain function, one needs to combine moderate coffee consumption with healthy eating and sleeping habits.