Researchers Find Coffee Enhances Memory, Good News
Already the favorite drink for senior citizens, here
is a new reason to love caffeine even more
Jan. 12, 2014 - For some, it's the tradition of
steeping tea leaves to brew the perfect cup of tea. For most seniors, it's the morning shuffle to a coffee maker for a hot jolt of
java. Then there are those who like their wake up with the kind of snap
and a fizz usually found in a carbonated beverage.
Regardless of the routine, the consumption of
caffeine is the energy boost of choice for millions to wake up or stay
up. Now, however, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University have found
another use for the stimulant: memory enhancer.
Michael Yassa, assistant professor of psychological
and brain sciences in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns
Hopkins, and his team of scientists found that caffeine has a positive
effect on long-term memory in humans. Their research, published by the
journal Nature Neuroscience, shows that caffeine enhances certain
memories at least up to 24 hours after it is consumed.
"We've always known that caffeine has
cognitive-enhancing effects, but its particular effects on strengthening
memories and making them resistant to forgetting has never been examined
in detail in humans," said Yassa, senior author of the paper. "We report
for the first time a specific effect of caffeine on reducing forgetting
over 24 hours."
The Johns Hopkins researchers conducted a
double-blind trial; which participants who did not regularly eat or
drink caffeinated products received either a placebo or a 200-milligram
caffeine tablet five minutes after studying a series of images. Salivary
samples were taken from the participants before they took the tablets to
measure their caffeine levels. Samples were taken again one, three and
24 hours afterwards.
The next day, both groups were tested on their
ability to recognize images from the previous day's study session. On
the test, some of the visuals were the same as from the day before, some
were new additions and some were similar but not the same as the items
previously viewed. More members of the caffeine group were able to
correctly identify the new images as "similar" to previously viewed
images versus erroneously citing them as the same.
The brain's ability to recognize the difference
between two similar but not identical items, called pattern separation,
reflects a deeper level of memory retention, the researchers said.
"If we used a standard recognition memory task
without these tricky similar items, we would have found no effect of
caffeine," Yassa said. "However, using these items requires the brain to
make a more difficult discrimination -- what we call pattern separation,
which seems to be the process that is enhanced by caffeine in our case."
The memory center in the human brain is the
hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped area in the medial temporal lobe of the
brain. The hippocampus is the switchbox for all short-term and long-term
memories. Most research done on memory -- the effects of concussions in
athletics to war-related head injuries to dementia in the aging
population -- are focused on this area of the brain.
Until now, caffeine's effects on long-term memory
had not been examined in detail. Of the few studies done, the general
consensus was that caffeine has little or no effect on long-term memory
The research is different from prior experiments
because the subjects took the caffeine tablets only after they had
viewed and attempted to memorize the images.
"Almost all prior studies administered caffeine
before the study session, so if there is an enhancement, it's not clear
if it's due to caffeine's effects on attention, vigilance, focus or
other factors. By administering caffeine after the experiment, we rule
out all of these effects and make sure that if there is an enhancement,
it's due to memory and nothing else," said Yassa.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,
90 percent of people worldwide consume caffeine in one form or another.
In the United States, 80 percent of adults consume caffeine every day.
The average adult has an intake of about 200 milligrams -- the same
amount used in the Yassa study -- or roughly one strong cup of coffee or
two small cups of coffee per day.
Yassa's team completed the research at Johns
Hopkins before his lab moved to the University of California-Irvine at
the start of this year.
"The next step for us is to figure out the brain
mechanisms underlying this enhancement," he said. "We can use
brain-imaging techniques to address these questions. We also know that
caffeine is associated with healthy longevity and may have some
protective effects from cognitive decline like Alzheimer's disease.
These are certainly important questions for the future."
The lead author of the paper is Daniel Borota, an
undergraduate student in Yassa's lab who received an undergraduate
research award from Johns Hopkins to conduct the study.
Additional authors, all from Johns Hopkins, are:
Elizabeth Murray, a research program coordinator in the Department of
Psychological and Brain Sciences; John Toscano, professor in the
Department of Chemistry; Gizem Kecili, a graduate student also in the
Chemistry Department and Allen Chang, Maria Ly and Joseph Watabe, all
undergraduates in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.
This research was supported by grants number P50
AG05146 and R01 AG034613 from the National Institute on Aging as well as
CHE-1213438 from the National Science Foundation.
Good news may warrant changes to current heart failure prevention guidelines of American Heart Association that say coffee drinking
may be risky for heart patients; bit of bad news - excess coffee bad! -
June 27, 2012
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