morning joe

5 reasons drinking coffee improves brain power

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There is nothing quite like a jolt of caffeine in the morning (or if you work late, in the afternoon, or evening for that matter). For many of us, it seems to help our brains switch on.

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We don’t often think of coffee as a mind-altering drug, but caffeine is psychoactive, which means it affects the brain. Other psychoactive substances include marijuana, psilocybin, and alcohol.

Here are five ways coffee can change the brain for the better.

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5. Short-term memory

A new paper hints at coffee’s memory-boosting properties.

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In a study published this week in the journal Current Biology, scientists fed bees caffeine and then tested their ability to remember specific flowers.

Bees like caffeine, and after they get a taste for it, they will seek it out. But these scientists wanted to know: Do bees crave caffeine? Or does caffeine change bees’ memories, helping them learn specific flowers?

“When you give bees caffeine, they don’t do anything like fly in loops, but do seem to be more motivated and more efficient.”

Sarah Arnold, a researcher at the Natural Resources Institute in the UK

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The researchers taught two groups of bees to associate the smell of a strawberry flower with getting a sugar solution — but one group’s nectar was spiked with caffeine.

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After the training, the caffeinated bees more reliably sought out real strawberry flowers than did their non-caffeinated peers, suggesting caffeine made a difference to their memory skills in the short term.

4. Motor learning skills

The same bee study has another intriguing finding for coffee lovers.

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In the same Current Biology study, caffeinated bees went from flower to flower faster than their non-caffeinated hive mates. The researchers think caffeine could boost motor learning skills.

3. Alertness

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Milligrams of caffeine, or a regular cup of coffee, per day appears to lower risk of mental fatigue.

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That’s according to a 2018 randomized, controlled clinical trial that investigated the effects of either drinking coffee, decaffeinated coffee, or a placebo drink on people’s ability to process information quickly and their mental alertness.

2. Mood

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We’ve all been there — you drink one cup of coffee too many, and you start to feel jittery and anxious. But other times, a hot latte or an icy cold brew can lift your spirits like nothing else.

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In a 2010 review, neurobiologist Astrid Nehlig writes that consuming low doses of caffeine in the form of coffee may boost feelings of interest in a task, and even promote a sense of calmness.

According to the paper, the evidence suggests consuming coffee in the late morning may be particularly beneficial.

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1. Brain age

Coffee could help keep your brain young.

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A 2015 study involving more than 1,400 participants found moderate coffee drinking may stave off the effects of cognitive decline in the aging brain.

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That's how many cups of coffee per day appears to have the greatest longevity effect on cognition.

Read more brain science stories here.

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