The Wonderful Effects Of Coffee On The Brain
Despite the reputation sagging caffeine in the past, there is more and more convincing evidence that it’s not just not so bad for us but, in a way, it can actually be very good for us. It is the most popular neurostimulant in the world (from the coolest, anyway), according to the authors of the new study that uses brain imaging to look at how caffeine exerts its wonderful effects on the brain. And that description is not total hyperbole – previous research has shown caffeine to reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The new study gives us some of the earliest clues in humans why this might be.
The researchers had 15 male participants refrain from drinking or eating anything with caffeine for 36 hours. If those 36 hours were painful for the participants, they at least were rewarded in the laboratory with an IV drip of caffeine. At the same time, their brains were digitized with positron emission (PET) technology, using a radioactive compound that allowed researchers to visualize where caffeine went once it reached the brain.
Adenosine receptors are found throughout the brain and body. In the brain, adenosine accumulates throughout the day, ultimately making us feel tired at the end of it. But caffeine is a bright adenosine mimic – thus, taking the place of adenosine, which blocks the receptors and keeps us feeling prickly and alert.
So What Is Effects Of Coffee On The Brain?
It turned out that in regular coffee drinkers, a good number of these adenosine receptors were blocked by caffeine when people were infused with it. The researchers calculated that it takes about 4-5 cups of coffee by blocking half of the adenosine receptors in the brain. And they suggest that the effects of increased caffeine cognition are due to this too much blocking of the adenosine receptor.
But what is most interesting about this study is the implications it has for our understanding of certain brain diseases – and the idea that caffeine can reduce our risk for them, which has been suggested before. The authors say that the effects of caffeine can accumulate over time and lead to measurable changes in the brain: If you are blocking the adenosine receptors with caffeine in the long run, this can result in “adaptive changes and lead to chronic changes in receptor expression and availability, “write the authors. Previous research has hinted that a reduction in the risk of dementia in those who drink coffee regularly, although the exact reasons behind this have not been clear. And in a very recent study in mice, caffeine reduces the kind of inflammation that is linked to mild cognitive impairment,
“There is substantial evidence that caffeine protects against neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s disease,” said author David Elmenhorst. “Several investigations show that moderate consumption of coffee of 3 to 5 cups per day in mid-life is linked to a reduced risk of dementia at the end of life.” And this study is interesting in that it can point to a true mechanism for the connection in humans – although there are certainly likely to be several mechanisms involved.
At very high doses, of course, caffeine is not so good for you, and in the form of energy drinks it has recently been the subject of some concern. But if you are in the “moderate” use group, you may be OK to continue your habit if you are not having any kind of unwanted side effects. In fact, it can be a very smart move for your brain.