Caffeine may make
you feel more alert when trying to learn information, but a new study
suggests the chemical might actually enhance how people store memories -- even
if you don't load up on the java before the task at hand.
people who consumed a caffeine pill after studying had better memory retention
than people who took placebo pills.
"We report for the
first time a specific effect of caffeine on reducing forgetting over 24 hours,"
study author Dr. Michael Yassa, an assistant professor of psychological and
brain sciences at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, said in a statement.
About 80 percent of
U.S. adults consume caffeine every day, according to the researchers.On
average, people take in about 200 milligrams each day, which equals one strong cup of coffee or two
smaller coffee cups.
A tall Starbuck's coffee has about 260 milligrams of caffeine, for example.
Caffeine's cognitive benefits have
been studied before, but the researchers wanted to test whether
memory processing could be strengthened by the oft-consumed chemical.
They tested 160 people who did not consume caffeine on a regular basis.
They were randomized in two groups to receive either a placebo or a
200-milligram caffeine pill five minutes after studying a series of
samples were analyzed to measure caffeine levels.
The next day, both
groups were tested on their ability to recognize the pictures shown to them the
previous day. They were also shown pictures that were similar to what they had examined, but not quite identical.
found more caffeine-pill takers were able to correctly identify the new
pictures as "similar" rather than incorrectly calling them the same when
to participants in placebo group. That suggests the images were better
processed from short-term to long-term memory in the caffeine-pill
prior studies administered caffeine before the study session, so if there is an
enhancement, it's not clear if it's due to caffeine's effects on attention, vigilance,
focus or other factors," said Yassa. "By administering caffeine after the
experiment, we rule out all of these effects and make sure that if there is an
enhancement, it's due to memory and nothing else."
The study was
published on Jan. 12 in Nature Neuroscience.
hopes to employ brain-imaging scans in a similar study to see what is
in the brain that causes this enhancement. Likely it is the hippocampus,
a structure that's essential in memory processing, that is doing a lot
of the work.
reported protective brain benefits in coffee drinkers, including recent papers
that found three daily cups of coffee could prevent people with mild cognitive impairment from developing Alzheimer's and a study that found caffeine reduced symptoms in people with Parkinson's disease.
"The next step
for us is to figure out the brain mechanisms underlying this enhancement,"
Yassa said. We also know that caffeine is associated with healthy longevity and
may have some protective effects from cognitive decline like Alzheimer's
disease. These are certainly important questions for the future."
Dr. David Knopman, a
professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., expressed doubt
to HealthDay that caffeine might help someone already experiencing memory loss.
Still, he called the research "interesting."
"It raises some
questions about what's involved in learning and how certain drugs might enhance
learning in normal people, he said.