More about Caffeine and Memory

If you drink caffeine, check out the Lifehacker article, What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain.

The article suggests that caffeine doesn’t actually give you a boost, but just stops the brain from inhibiting other stimulants like dopamine and glutamate:

More important than just fitting in, though, caffeine actually binds to those [adenosine] receptors in efficient fashion, but doesn’t activate them—they’re plugged up by caffeine’s unique shape and chemical makeup. With those receptors blocked, the brain’s own stimulants, dopamine and glutamate, can do their work more freely—“Like taking the chaperones out of a high school dance,” Braun writes in an email. In the book, he ultimately likens caffeine’s powers to “putting a block of wood under one of the brain’s primary brake pedals.” Here is what they have to say about caffeine and memory: The general consensus on caffeine studies shows that it can enhance work output, but mainly in certain types of work. For tired people who are doing work that’s relatively straightforward, that doesn’t require lots of subtle or abstract thinking, coffee has been shown to help increase output and quality. Caffeine has also been seen to improve memory creation and retention when it comes to “declarative memory,” the kind students use to remember lists or answers to exam questions.

(In a semi-crazy side note we couldn’t resist, researchers have implied this memory boost may be tied to caffeine’s effect on adrenaline production. You have, presumably, sharper memories of terrifying or exhilarating moments in life, due in part to your body’s fight-or-flight juice. Everyone has their “Where I was when I heard that X died” story, plugging in John F. Kennedy, John Lennon, or Kurt Cobain, depending on generational relatability).

Then again, one study in which subjects proofread text showed that a measurable boost was mainly seen by those who could be considered “impulsive,” or willing to sacrifice accuracy and quality for speed. And the effect was only seen in morning tests, indicating the subjects may have either become lightly dependent on caffeine, or were more disposed to such tasks at that time of day.

I stopped drinking coffee, and usually only drink oolong tea in the morning or afternoon. Oolong is partially fermented tea, something like a cross between green and black teas. I switched to tea because I think it’s less harsh than coffee, and it contains an interesting substance called theanine.

Related: see Foods to Improve Memory and Natural Ways to Improve Memory.




Dan 19 Sep 2021

Coffee is a health drink, IMO. It has more antioxidants than any other popularly consumed drink or food.

Based on my experience I think the ideal for maximum health is a strict vegan diet (raw vegetables and fruit and some grains), coffee, water, running 6 to 8 miles per day, and some basic strength work 3x per week. It's very simple, saves lots of time (thinking about eating, eating, and sluggishness from eating), lots of money, and you'll be a physical specimen.


Josh 19 Sep 2021

I love coffee (check out my coffee recipes here and here :)), but I've felt a lot better (calmer) since I switched to tea for my regular drink. It probably depends on the person.

I think the coffee study might be misleading because it says, "Coffee came out on top, on the combined basis of both antioxidants per serving size and frequency of consumption..." Since Americans don't drink as much tea, coffee comes out on top in that study, even though tea has more antioxidants (as far as I know).

Judging by the coffee consumed at the UK Open Memory Championship, having some coffee isn't going to seriously impair memory performance though.

If I could run 6-8 miles per day, I would do it... :)

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