On Nature Neuroscience of January, a study suggest that Caffeine appears to have an enhancing effect on memory consolidation.
160 healthy volunteers were shown 200 pictures of different everyday items and asked questions about them. They were then given a pill containing 200 mg caffeine or a placebo.
The next day, the participants were given a surprise memory test. They were shown another set of pictures, some the same as before, some new items, and some similar but slightly different.
Those individuals who had taken the caffeine were better able to discriminate the new items and were more likely to detect that the similar items were different from those viewed the day before.
That shows if someone have a coffee habit, and drink several cups a day, this is another reason not to stop it. But it may not be enough to persuade someone who doesn’t drink coffee to start, especially if they are highly reactive to its stimulant effects.
That suggest as a moderate caffeine intake is associated with better longevity and a reduction in Alzheimer’s disease. This could potentially be a similar mechanism.
Participants in the study were not regular coffee drinkers. It was stipulated that they should consume less than 500 mg of caffeine each week (about 2 to 3 cups of coffee).
The results suggesting that moderate amounts of caffeine (200 mg) may be the most effective at enhancing memory.
Other studies on coffee and memory have shown inconclusive results, but previous studies have generally given caffeine before the test so it is difficult to separate
effects on memory and effects on alertness. In this study, because caffeine was given after the initial viewing of the items, the effect is more likely to be due to memory rather than alertness.
People can react very differently to caffeine. If someone don’t normally drink coffee, he can be hypersensitive to its effects and it can cause anxiety and the jitters. But some people are not affected at all, and if somebody is a regular coffee drinker, he can build up tolerance to these effects. There appears to be a great genetic variability in how we metabolize caffeine and how we react to it, and other factors also play a role, such as body mass, gender, and hormones.
The neurotransmitter norepinephrine has positive effects on memory, and caffeine liberates norepinephrine, so itthe researchers suspected it might have an effect on memory. In addition, caffeine has been shown to enhance communication between neurones in the CA2 region of the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory.
Future experiments should be conducted to understand the mechanisms by which caffeine can have this potentiating effect. Given the widespread use of caffeine and the growing interest in its effects both as a cognitive enhancer and as a neuroprotectant, the researchers are confident.