Caffeine Can Sharpen Memory


A recent study published in the multidisciplinary medical journal Nature Neuroscience has proved that caffeine can sharpen memory.  A group made of 60 people were asked to take part in the study during which half of the 60 people received pills containing 200 milligrams of caffeine.  The other half of the participants were given placebos.  Researchers who led the testing of the subjects were not aware which half had been given the placebos.

The researchers tested the participants by showing them 200 photographs of mundane objects on a screen and asked them to state whether the photograph was something that could be described as an indoor or outdoor item.  After the first viewing of the photographs, the people in the study were requested the next day to review the material and indicate whether the photograph was one that they had seen before or similar to one that they had seen previously.

The research’s testing material included photographs in which the placement of the subjects of the photographs was slightly altered so that the photograph was a different take on the same subject matter.  People who had been given the pills with caffeine were more able to say what was different in a photo similar to one in the first set that they’d seen.   However, overall the result was that the participants, whether or not they had been given the placebo or the caffeine pills, identified the sets of photographs correctly as being the same or similar when shown the photographs on the second day. The details of the similar photos were picked up by the group who’d taken the 200 milligrams of caffeine.


“Pattern separation memory” adheres to the type of energy the brain creates to identify and separate similar memories; for instance in a daily routine such as parking a car in a parking lot on sequential days or over a series of moments in a period and remembering where the car is located on the parking lot at each occasion.  Caffeine is believed to contribute to arousal levels which have associations with memory.  The research showing that caffeine can sharpen memory is good news, however, the substance has been rumoured to have its downsides such as insomnia, increasing the risk osteoporosis or cardiovascular disease, and addiction. Although various studies have been made of these “risks” the medical proof is not overwhelming at the moment.

It is certain, though, that elevated levels of caffeine can be harmful.  Doctors recommend that people ingest no more than 200 to 300 milligrams a day which equals two to four eight ounces cups of brewed coffee.  Caffeine can be rapidly absorbed by the body and can be found in medicine, beverages and food, such as chocolate.  When the body absorbs more than 500 to 600 milligrams a day, symptoms may appear such as an irregular heartbeat, fever, dizziness or convulsions.  While the best advice is probably to follow doctor’s orders and keep caffeine intake to acceptable levels, it may add enjoyment to a Starbucks’ trip to know that a cup of coffee can sharpen memory.

By Persephone Abbott

Los Angeles Times
Web MD

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