Universiteit Leiden

But first, coffee.

But first, coffee. Photo Credit: Daremoshiranai via Compfight cc

Although findings on the cognitive enhancing properties of caffeine are mixed, under certain conditions consuming caffeine may be beneficial on the short- and long-term. I here provide you with 3 good reasons to drink coffee from a cognitive perspective.

Caffeine is the most often used psychostimulant in the world and a large majority of the daily caffeine intake comes from consumption of coffee. 88% of the American adult population consumes coffee of which 54% on a daily basis (National Coffee Association report). These high percentages can indicate several things: Coffee tastes good, which I totally agree with, Americans are very social people that drink coffee with each other all day, which I moderately agree with, or coffee really stimulates your physical and mental well-being, which I am not so sure to agree with.

Scientifically speaking, caffeine is an adenosine receptor antagonist. Since adenosine receptors inhibit neural activity, blocking this effect gives caffeine its stimulant properties. Consuming one cup of coffee is usually enough to reach this effect, depending on individual differences in absorption and metabolism. Although a multitude of studies report subjective improvements in alertness and mood after caffeine consumption, evidence for objective improvements in cognitive performance are mixed. Still, there are three good reasons to drink coffee, even from a cognitive perspective. Ready? Here they are.

At first, most studies do find effects of caffeine on cognitive performance when participants are being test under certain conditions. These conditions have to do with the difficulty of the task, the level of alertness and expectancy and the dose. The easier a task, the lower the alertness, the higher the expectancy and the higher the dose is, the more cognitive performance improves after consumption of coffee.

Secondly, moderate caffeine consumption is suggested to decrease the risk on cognitive decline or impairment later in life. Moreover, there seems to be an association with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. This neuroprotective effect is suggested to be larger for women than for man, even though in general men consume more caffeine. What exactly is the relation between caffeine and its neuroprotective effects is not yet clear, but there are some explanations such as a reduction in disturbances between helpful and toxic particles in the brain, which we call oxidative stress.

Finally, a nice study showed that whenever you find yourself in a military Hell Week, caffeine can improve your cognitive performance. We all meet the criteria for being in a Hell Week now and then, namely 72 h of sleep deprivation and continuous exposure to physical and psychological stressors. It was found that consuming an amount of caffeine that matches 2 or 3 regular cups of coffee, improved performance on tests of vigilance, reaction time and alertness as compared to a no-caffeine group.

In short: coffee lovers are brain lovers. Anybody want some coffee?!

1 Comment

Rick van Koert
Posted by Rick van Koert on August 17, 2016 at 13:21


In addition to your second reason to drink coffee, caffeine and adenosine receptors are shown to play a major role in reducing seizure-induced neuronal death through the control of free radicals in the brain; another beneficial effect of caffeine.

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