Caffeine is the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive substance. There’s little argument about that. There are, however, many questions still to be answered about how caffeine effects the brain. Recent research seems to show that regular caffeine use may change the physical structure of the brain, at least temporarily.
We know that caffeine improves alertness and may even have positive impacts on cognitive function, at least in the short term. We also know that consuming too much caffeine or consuming it too late in the day can negatively impact sleep and sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation can negatively impact gray matter in the brain, as previous research has shown.
With this in mind, a research team from the University of Basel Asked the question “can regular caffeine consumption affect brain structure as a result of poor sleep?” Dr. Carolin Reichert and Prof. Christian Cajochen of the University of Basel and the Psychiatric Hospital of the Univ. of Basel (UPK) led the study. The findings were reported in the journal Cerebral Cortex.
In short, they found that regular caffeine consumption has an impact on gray matter. The effects, it appears, are temporary.
Even though the caffeine consumed by study participants did not negatively affect sleep patterns, the team still noted changes in gray matter. Gray matter is the portion of the central nervous system comprised, primarily, of the cell bodies of nerve cells. White matter primarily makes up the neural pathways, the long extensions of nerve cells.
A group of 20 young and healthy individuals, all daily coffee drinkers, took part in the study. researchers gave them tablets to take over a 10-day period, during which they consumed no other caffeine. During the first 10-day period, they were given caffeine tablets. During the second 10-day period, they received placebos.
The sleep quality of the participants was measured by EEG during both phases of the study. At the end of each 10-day period, the researchers measured the gray matter volume of each participant using brain scans.
Regardless of whether the subjects took the caffeine tablet or the placebo, their sleep quality seemed unaffected, either in depth of sleep or duration. There was, however, a significant difference in gray matter volume between the two 10-day periods. Gray matter volume had increased by the end of the 10-day placebo period, when compared with the volume at the end of the 10-day caffeine capsule period.
The difference was particularly striking in the right medial temporal lobe, including the hippocampus, a region of the brain that is essential to memory consolidation. “Our results do not necessarily mean that caffeine consumption has a negative impact on the brain,” emphasizes Reichert. “But daily caffeine consumption evidently affects our cognitive hardware, which in itself should give rise to further studies.” She adds that in the past, the health effects of caffeine have been investigated primarily in patients, but there is also a need for research on healthy subjects.
While caffeine may appears to be responsible for the reduction in gray matter during the caffeine tablet period, gray matter volume had bounced back strongly after just 10 days of caffeine abstinence. “The changes in brain morphology seem to be temporary, but systematic comparisons between coffee drinkers and those who usually consume little or no caffeine have so far been lacking,” says Reichert.
Speaking for all who drink coffee or consume caffeine regularly, I’d like to say that I think we need to see those studies! While I like the brain boost that I get from moderate (honest! It’s moderate!) caffeine consumption, I’d also love to know if my brain is okay with my caffeine consumption.
Are you a coffee drinker or consumer of caffeine? What’s your take on this? Drop me a comment below or visit me at Coach Phil Hueston on Facebook and leave a comment there.
Keep the faith and keep after it!
Journal Reference – Yu-Shiuan Lin, Janine Weibel, Hans-Peter Landolt, Francesco Santini, Martin Meyer, Julia Brunmair, Samuel M Meier-Menches, Christopher Gerner, Stefan Borgwardt, Christian Cajochen, Carolin Reichert. Daily Caffeine Intake Induces Concentration-Dependent Medial Temporal Plasticity in Humans: A Multimodal Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial. Cerebral Cortex, 2021; DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhab005