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Coffee Enhances Memory

March 3, 2020

Two hundred milligrams of caffeine, roughly the one in a coffee, taken after viewing a series of images helps you remember them better and in more detail the next day. This suggests that instead of drinking coffee before facing an important job to stay awake, it might be better to drink it immediately afterwards, to get the best possible memory.

Better with caffeine

Most of the people were able to tell if they had seen the image before or not. But the volunteers who had taken caffeine quickly spotted the subtle differences, unlike those in the placebo group who easily confused the modified images with the older ones. The brain’s ability to recognize these subtle differences is called the “separation pattern.”

This skill is crucial, for example, to distinguish two very similar scenes, for example, remembering every day where we have left the car in the parking lot at work. The general image would be the same (the parking) and what varies is where we park the car. This ability to remember where we have parked every day in the same parking lot begins to seriously fail in the cognitive deterioration associated with pathologies such as Alzheimer’s.

“If we had used a standard memory test, in which we had not resorted to those little tricks in the images, we would not have found any effect of caffeine on memory,” explains Yassa. With that little trap, the brain has more difficulty distinguishing between previously viewed images and has allowed researchers to affirm that it is precisely this process of memory that allows discriminating these fine details, called the separation pattern, that enhances caffeine.

It is possible that it achieves this by indirectly increasing the levels of norepinephrine, which this research team had previously related precisely to the “separation patterns” that allow us to distinguish between two very similar images.

The right dose

The next stage will be to understand the mechanisms by which this stimulating substance contained in coffee, tea and to a lesser extent in chocolate, manages to enhance memory. “We know that caffeine is associated with healthy ageing and could also have some protective effect against the cognitive decline associated with pathologies such as Alzheimer’s. It is an important question to study in the future,” says Yassa.

By the way, if someone is tempted to test what happens if they exceed this 200-milligram dose by far, it is good to know that this effect of caffeine on memory is in the form of an “inverted U” graph. This means that there is a maximum caffeine consumption from which there is not only no improvement but a worsening in the ability to remember. It should not be forgotten either that an excess of this stimulant produces symptoms similar to those of an anxiety attack, which leads to a decrease in cognitive performance.

How much caffeine is in a coffee?

According to the Organization of Consumers (OCU), in 100 milliliters of coffee prepared at home, there are 180 milligrams of caffeine. If instantaneous, this amount drops to 131 milligrams. In a 125-millilitre tea infusion, there are 24 milligrams of caffeine. This stimulating substance is also present in soft drinks. A can of cola or tea (330 ml) contains about 25 milligrams. And 200 ml of an energy drink provides 84 milligrams of caffeine.

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