- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Study examined the effects of two cups of coffee


For the first time, researchers have been able to watch distinct areas of the brain — the ones that relate to short-term memory — fire up after volunteers ingested the equivalent of two cups of coffee.

“Everyone knows coffee makes us more alert, more vigilant, but our study documented how it works in the brain. We were able to show that caffeine modulates a higher brain function,” said Dr. Florian Koppelstatter, a radiology fellow at the Medical University of Innsbruck in Austria.

Dr. Koppelstatter presented the findings yesterday prior to the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world, found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate. Americans, on average, consume 238 milligrams of caffeine daily — the equivalent of more than 4.5 cups of coffee. Worldwide, the per-capita consumption is about 76 mg.

The stimulant is also quick-acting: 99 percent of the caffeine in a cup of coffee is absorbed within 45 minutes of drinking it; half is absorbed within 13 minutes.

Dr. Koppelstatter and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging to determine the effect of caffeine consumption on parts of a brain network associated with short-term memory. The test group consisted of 15 healthy male volunteers ages 26 to 47, some of whom were regular coffee drinkers, and others who rarely consumed anything caffeinated.

Short-term, or working, memory is the kind of brain activity needed to remember things for a short period of time, “like looking up a telephone number in the phone book and storing the number until you’ve dialed it,” Dr. Koppelstatter said.

Each volunteer had to abstain from any caffeine for 12 hours before each test. On two separate days, each subject took a capsule that contained either 100 milligrams of caffeine or a placebo, with researchers switching the dose for each volunteer without letting him know what he was getting.

The men were put inside the MRI scanner shortly before they took the pills while researchers took base-line measurements of their brains. Then, 20 minutes after taking the capsule, they were asked to do a short-term memory task.

“When we subtracted the effects we saw from the placebo studies, there remained significant increases in activity in regions of the frontal part of the brain that control attention and concentration,” Dr. Koppelstatter said.

He noted that other research suggests that people who regularly use caffeine tend to have a stronger reaction to the stimulant, but said the enhanced effect was seen among all the volunteers.

However, he stressed that although caffeine clearly exerts an effect on normal brain function in the short term, that doesn’t mean that the path to superior memory or learning is paved with coffee grounds.

“We still need to learn more about caffeine’s effect on mental resources,” Dr. Koppelstatter said.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide