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Caffeine Brain

April 18, 2012 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

For the next few moments, I’d like you to conjure up an image of what you think caffeine does to the brain. Did you come up with negative or positive imagery? When I think of caffeinated beverages such as coffee, hot cocoa or tea, I associate them with the promotion of brain health. I know this goes against the common stereotype of caffeine as overly stimulating. However, modern science is starting to show a consistently positive trend in trials investigating the role of caffeine consumption and neuroprotection.

A recent review by the Mid-America Heart Institute at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri reports that, compared to nondrinkers, “coffee drinkers may be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, stroke, depression, death from any cause, and neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s”. That summary was published in November 2011. Since then, a number of additional publications have appeared that further support these still controversial assertions.

Arguably, the strongest case for the utility of caffeine in neurodegenerative diseases can be found in research relating to Parkinson’s disease (PD). A current examination in the American Journal of Epidemiology reveals that men and women who drink the largest amount of coffee are 25% and 40% less likely to develop PD than nondrinkers. According to a Japanese analysis from July 2011, tea drinkers may be afforded even greater protection of up to 48%. In addition, a recent placebo-controlled, pilot study determined that caffeine supplementation “may improve some motor and nonmotor aspects of PD”. A daily dosage of 400 mg/day was found most effective and relatively well tolerated. However, some participants in the trial reported dose-dependent adverse reactions including anxiety, gastrointestinal discomfort and emerging/worsening tremors. This appears to be similar to the real world experience that most people find with caffeine – some tolerate it well, while others are more sensitive to higher dosages ≥200 mg/day.

The March 2012 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease is the latest to draw a link between higher caffeine levels in the blood and a lower risk of dementia and progression to dementia in those with mild cognitive impairment. In this particular examination, coffee was the predominant source of caffeine in the participants’ diets. Previous experiments in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease have concluded that chronic coffee ingestion improves antioxidant status in the brain and cognitive functioning. But, green and white tea may also serve as a good source of caffeine and other phytochemicals which preserve healthier brain function by inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter vital for learning and memory. This is a similar mechanism employed by many conventional drugs used to manage dementia.

Presently, scientists are also examining the correlation between coffee and tea intake and decreased incidence of a brain cancer known as adult glioma and clinical depression. Prestigious centers of learning, including the Harvard and Yale Schools of Public Health, are on the case. Thus far, their preliminary findings appear to be quite promising for all those who enjoy a daily cup or more of coffee and/or tea. Further research is being called for and will likely continue in the foreseeable future based on the ongoing popularity of these caffeinated beverages. I think this should be viewed as a very positive development and trend, indeed.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 – Cuppa Joe: Friend or Foe? Effects of Chronic Coffee Consumption on … (link)

Study 2 – Caffeine Intake, Smoking, and Risk of Parkinson Disease in Men and (link)

Study 3 – Intake of Japanese and Chinese Teas Reduces Risk of Parkinson’s (link)

Study 4 – Caffeine in Parkinson’s Disease: A Pilot Open-Label, Dose-(link)

Study 5 – High Blood Caffeine Levels in MCI Linked to Lack of Progression (link)

Study 6 – Chronic Coffee and Caffeine Ingestion Effects on the Cognitive (link)

Study 7 – Caffeine Synergizes with Another Coffee Component to Increase (link)

Study 8 – Inhibition of Acetylcholinesterase by Green and White Tea and Their (link)

Study 9 – Coffee, Tea, Soda, and Caffeine Intake in Relation to Risk of Adult (link)

Study 10 – Coffee, Caffeine, and Risk of Depression Among Women (link)

Caffeine Intake May Reduce the Risk of Brain Cancer

Source: Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov;92(5):1145-50. (link)

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Posted in Food and Drink, Memory, Mental Health

18 Comments & Updates to “Caffeine Brain”

  1. Iggy Dalrymple Says:

    I recently had to drive all night.
    Two jiggers of 5 Hour Energy did the job.

  2. JP Says:

    Hi Iggy.

    I see that product everywhere, but have yet to try it. Coffee and/or green tea do the trick for me. Also, keeping the car windows open while driving at night helps! 😉

    Be well and drive safe!


  3. kristi Says:

    Great article!

    I would be very careful, Iggy about the 5 Hour Energy intake! I work in a cardiac unit and we had a patient who made a cross country drive – drinking multiple 5 Hour Energies – he ended up in ED with chest pain and a trip to the cath lab to put a stent in his heart.

  4. JP Says:

    More isn’t always a good thing. Thank you for the reminder and warning, Kristi!

    Be well!


  5. Mary Brighton Says:

    I agree with Kristi. These high energy drinks can be dangerous especially in kids/teenagers. These energy drinks can contain super high doses of caffeine plus other herbs and additives. I had two parents contact me whose teenagers died after drinking high energy drinks. (I wrote an article on the subject). In high doses (2 or more) they can cause havoc with the heart.

    A good general rule for caffeine is as JP says, in moderation. Personally, I just returned from a short trip to Italy…drank amazing coffee/espresso…strong and full of caffeine. I feel quite mentally alert since returning (LOL)!

  6. Mia B. Says:

    Three cheers to the “Cup o’Joe”~!
    …Hope to enjoy one with you soon, Jp 😉

  7. Mia B. Says:

    Three cheers to the “Cup o’ Joe”~!
    …Hope to enjoy one with you soon, Jp 😉

  8. JP Says:

    Thank you for relaying that important and timely information, Mary. I’ve tracked down your blog on the subject and will post it below:


    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Cin cin, Mia B! 🙂

    Be well!


  10. Rob Says:

    Whats the deal with all the hype behind Green Bean coffee

  11. JP Says:

    Hi Rob,

    I think there’s some value to be found in green bean coffee extract. Some of the weight loss claims are *probably* exaggerated IMO. But, overall I believe it’s likely health promoting.


    Be well!


  12. Mary Brighton Says:

    JP, Thanks for the link to my article on high energy drinks. It is an important subject, especially to parents who have lost their children due to ingestion of high energy drinks.

  13. JP Says:

    Updated 07/25/15:


    Curr Neuropharmacol. 2014 Dec;12(6):475-89.

    Can Tea Consumption be a Safe and Effective Therapy Against Diabetes Mellitus-Induced Neurodegeneration?

    Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a metabolic disease that is rapidly increasing and has become a major public health problem. Type 2 DM (T2DM) is the most common type, accounting for up to 90-95% of the new diagnosed DM cases. The brain is very susceptible to glucose fluctuations and hyperglycemia-induced oxidative stress (OS). It is well known that DM and the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases are associated. Tea, Camellia sinensis L., is one of the most consumed beverages. It contains several phytochemicals, such as polyphenols, methylxanthines (mainly caffeine) and L-theanine that are often reported to be responsible for tea’s health benefits, including in brain. Tea phytochemicals have been reported to be responsible for tea’s significant antidiabetic and neuroprotective properties and antioxidant potential. Epidemiological studies have shown that regular consumption of tea has positive effects on DM-caused complications and protects the brain against oxidative damage, contributing to an improvement of the cognitive function. Among the several reported benefits of tea consumption, those related with neurodegenerative diseases are of great interest. Herein, we discuss the potential beneficial effects of tea consumption and tea phytochemicals on DM and how their action can counteract the severe brain damage induced by this disease.

    Be well!


  14. JP Says:

    Updated 07/25/15:


    J Parkinsons Dis. 2015 Apr 16.

    Linking Smoking, Coffee, Urate, and Parkinson’s Disease – A Role for Gut Microbiota?

    While the etiology and pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease (PD) is still obscure, there is evidence for lifestyle factors influencing disease risk. Best established are the inverse associations with smoking and coffee consumption. In other contexts there is evidence that health effects of lifestyle factors may depend on gut microbiome composition. Considering the gastrointestinal involvement in PD, it was recently speculated, that the associations between smoking, coffee, and PD risk could be mediated by gut microbiota. Here we review such a possible mediatory role of gut microbiota taking into account recent findings on microbiome composition in PD and extending the scope also to urate.

    Be well!


  15. JP Says:

    Updated 07/25/15:


    Nutr Neurosci. 2014 Sep 26.

    The effect of a single dose of multivitamin and mineral combinations with and without guaraná on functional brain activity during a continuous performance task.

    Objectives: Relatively few studies have explored the possibility of acute cognitive effects of multivitamin ingestion. This report explores the acute brain electrophysiological changes associated with multivitamin and mineral supplementation, with and without guaraná, using the steady-state visually evoked potential (SSVEP).

    Methods: Based on the known SSVEP correlates of A-X continuous performance task (CPT) performance, and sensitivity to acute psychopharmacological manipulations, the A-X CPT was adopted as a task paradigm to explore treatment-related neurophysiological changes in attentional processing. Twenty healthy non-smoking adults aged 21-39 years (mean age = 28.35 years, SD = 5.52) took part in this double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized, balanced crossover design study.

    Results: The study demonstrated both transient and tonic changes in the SSVEP response during completion of the A-X CPT following multivitamin and mineral treatment both with and without guaraná. Transient changes in SSVEP response in prefrontal regions were observed after a single dose of a multivitamin and mineral preparation indicative of enhanced activity within brain regions engaged by the attentional demands of the task. This pattern of change in frontal regions was correlated with improved behavioural performance after treatment with the multivitamin and mineral combination. Where tonic shifts in SSVEP response were investigated, multivitamin and mineral treatment was associated with a pattern of increased inhibition across posterior regions, with enhanced excitatory processing in prefrontal regions. In contrast, multivitamin and mineral treatment with additional guaraná showed a tonic shift towards greater excitatory processes after a single treatment, consistent with the caffeine content of this treatment. D

    Discussion: While preliminary in nature, these findings suggest a single multivitamin/mineral dose is sufficient to impact on functional brain activity in task-related brain regions.

    Be well!


  16. JP Says:

    Updated 11/30/16:


    Front Psychol. 2016 Nov 14;7:1764.

    Caffeine Enhances Memory Performance in Young Adults during Their Non-optimal Time of Day.

    Many college students struggle to perform well on exams in the early morning. Although students drink caffeinated beverages to feel more awake, it is unclear whether these actually improve performance. After consuming coffee (caffeinated or decaffeinated), college-age adults completed implicit and explicit memory tasks in the early morning and late afternoon (Experiment 1). During the morning, participants ingesting caffeine demonstrated a striking improvement in explicit memory, but not implicit memory. Caffeine did not alter memory performance in the afternoon. In Experiment 2, participants engaged in cardiovascular exercise in order to examine whether increases in physiological arousal similarly improved memory. Despite clear increases in physiological arousal, exercise did not improve memory performance compared to a stretching control condition. These results suggest that caffeine has a specific benefit for memory during students’ non-optimal time of day – early morning. These findings have real-world implications for students taking morning exams.

    Be well!


  17. JP Says:

    Updated 01/07/17:


    Mol Nutr Food Res. 2017 Jan 5.

    Low dose of caffeine enhances the efficacy of antidepressants in major depressive disorder and the underlying neural substrates.

    SCOPE: Caffeine is one of the most frequently used psychoactive substances ingested mainly via beverage or food products. Major depressive disorder is a serious and devastating psychiatric disorder. Emerging evidence indicates that caffeine enhances the antidepressant-like activity of common antidepressant drugs in rodents. However, whether joint administration of low dose of caffeine enhances the antidepressant actions in depressed patients remains unclear.

    METHODS AND RESULTS: A total of 95 male inpatients were assigned to three groups and were asked to take either caffeine (60, 120mg) or placebo (soymilk powder) daily for 4 weeks on the basis of their current antidepressant medications. Results showed that chronic supplementation with low dose of caffeine (60 mg) produced rapid antidepressant action by reduction of depressive scores. Furthermore, low dose of caffeine improved cognitive performance in depressed patients. However, caffeine did not affect sleep as measured by overnight polysomnography. Moreover, chronic caffeine consumption elicited inhibition of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activation by normalization of salivary cortisol induced by trier social stress test.

    CONCLUSIONS: These findings indicated the potential benefits of further implications of supplementary administration of caffeine to reverse the development of depression and enhance the outcome of antidepressants treatment in major depressive disorder.

    Be well!


  18. JP Says:

    Updated 09/22/18:


    Nutrients. 2018 Sep 19;10(9).

    Coffee Consumption and the Risk of Depression in a Middle-Aged Cohort: The SUN Project.

    Coffee is one of the most widely consumed drinks around the world, while depression is considered the major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. However, the investigation on coffee consumption and depression is limited and results may be confounded by the overall dietary pattern. We assessed the relationship between coffee intake and the risk of depression, controlling for adherence to the Mediterranean diet. We studied 14,413 university graduates of the ‘Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra’ (SUN) cohort, initially free of depression. We evaluated coffee consumption using a validated food-frequency questionnaire (FFQ). Incident depression cases were adjudicated only if the participant met two criteria simultaneously: (a) validated physician-diagnosed depression together with (b) new onset of habitual antidepressant use. Both criteria were needed; participants meeting only one of them were not classified as cases. Participants who drank at least four cups of coffee per day showed a significantly lower risk of depression than participants who drank less than one cup of coffee per day (HR: 0.37 (95% CI 0.15⁻0.95)). However, overall, we did not observe an inverse linear dose⁻response association between coffee consumption and the incidence of depression (p for trend = 0.22).

    Be well!


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