Giving Coffee a Break
Jogging the Brain
The bottom line: Coffee seems to be harmless for most people. And studies
suggest that a cup may actually offer some impressive benefits. In the August
1999 issue of Physiology and Behavior, for instance, English researchers
reported that volunteers who drank caffeinated coffee in the morning performed
better than nondrinkers on tests that involved learning new information. That
holds true for the elderly as well, according to a study in the January 2002
issue of Psychological Science. And a study published in
International Journal of Sports Medicine in August 1999 found that
attention, psychomotor skills, and long-term memory all improved during the few
hours after volunteers drank caffeinated beverages.
Why? Caffeine keeps us alert not by speeding us up but by keeping us from
slowing down, according to Michael Bonnet, PhD, professor of neurology at
Wright State University in Ohio. Each time brain cells fire, they produce a
squirt of a chemical that serves as an "off" switch that keeps neural
activity in check. Caffeine, in effect, blocks the chemical -- jamming the
switch so that it can't be turned down.
Caffeine also may boost levels of brain-cell calcium, a mineral we know is
important in memory. In experiments reported in the October 1999 issue of
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an Israeli researcher
observed a calcium increase in brain cells exposed to caffeine.
Is There Any Reason Not to Love Coffee?
However, too much caffeinated coffee can cause problems, experts say.
Because caffeine is a stimulant, it can aggravate sleep problems like
If you're having trouble getting pregnant, you might want to think about
laying off coffee. A few studies have linked caffeine to infertility (although
others have found no association).
Finally, if you're feeling anxious or depressed, it's worth easing up on the
caffeine, which can exacerbate symptoms.