A recent study emanating from Portugal has delved into the alertness people experience post coffee consumption, questioning whether caffeine alone is the catalyst or if other components within the morning ritual play a part. The study, guided by Professor Nuno Sousa from the University of Minho's School of Medicine, involved brain scans of 83 habitual coffee drinkers. 47 of the participants underwent an MRI pre and post coffee consumption, whilst the remaining 36 consumed caffeine diluted in hot water.
Caffeine Vs Coffee: The Brain's Response
The findings, published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, showcased that both coffee and caffeine led to reduced activity in brain areas tied to a resting state, implying an increased readiness to embark on the day. However, only coffee (and not caffeine alone) heightened activity in brain regions related to short-term memory, attention, and focus. This indicates that sensory experiences linked with coffee such as sight, smell, or taste may contribute to alertness independently of caffeine content.
Natural Chemicals in Coffee: A New Perspective
The study also alluded to the possibility that natural chemicals present in coffee, like epicatechins, might have their unique influences on brain activity. Despite this, the researchers clarified that their aim is not to modify coffee consumption habits, but to enhance our understanding of its effects on the brain. The study had certain limitations, including its focus primarily on women and the potential impact of caffeine on blood flow, which might affect MRI results. The study did not include decaf coffee drinkers, which could have offered additional insights into the effects of coffee versus caffeine.
Coffee: A Healthier Source of Caffeine
The researchers' consensus is that coffee serves as a healthier source of caffeine when compared to energy drinks or soda, due to its rich content of antioxidants and polyphenols, which offer various health benefits. This study adds another perspective to the ongoing research on the effects of coffee and caffeine on mental health, including its potential to combat depression and boost mood, and its role in promoting alertness, reducing fatigue, and stimulating neurotransmitters like dopamine.