#SfN13 Your coffee habit? Don't fight it, embrace it.

This is part of a series of blog posts for the 2013 Society for Neuroscience Annual Conference. 

Poster 236.10 The daily fix: habitual caffeine doses improve performance in attention and executive functions irrespective of food intake. JL Mariano, JCF Galduroz, S Pompeia. Univ. Federal De Sao Paulo, Brazil

Coffee and I: 14+ years of history and counting.

Here's another reason to love coffee. Researchers from Brazil found that morning coffee consumption not only keeps you awake and alert, but also improves performance on cognitively demanding tasks. That is, if you're already a habitual drinker.

People often start their day with a cuppa and breakfast. Carbohydrates in food gives the brains a shot of glucose, which is shown to positively affect cognition. Since caffeine also stimulates the brain, researchers wondered if stacking the two may lead to even better performance.

They recruited 58 young healthy coffee drinkers. After an overnight fast, half of the volunteers drank their usual cup (or two) of coffee, intaking 25-300mg of caffeine. The other half drank a placebo decaf. Some ate a cereal bar to chase the coffee, others didn't. 30min later, researchers bombarded the volunteers with a series of mentally challenging tasks.

In one, volunteers tried to continuously call out numbers between 1 and 9 in a random fashion for 2 minutes straight - randomness and low repetition is the key. Here, volunteers had to actively inhibit our natural preference for number patterns (try it, it's hard). In another test for  long term memory and recall, they named as many types of musical instruments or animals as possible in one minute. A whack-a-mole like game (hitting a button when a light comes on) tested their reaction speed while a zoo-navigating task tested for efficient goal-directed planning.

Surprisingly, food did not affect the performance on any of these tasks; but coffee certainly did. Coffee drinkers generated random numbers faster and repeated themselves less than controls. Their performance was also more stable within the task, consistent with less feelings of mental fatigue or weakness after the tests. However, these subjects were consistent coffee consumers, so it's hard to say whether caffeine upped their smarts in a true nootropic-like manner, or if the placebo drinking group simply did worse due to caffeine withdrawal.

But for the average cup-a-day coffee consumer, if you're in need of a quick boost in mental power (or avoid that nasty brain fog), it might help to go drink a cup. Scientists and lab techs, I'm looking at you.


PS Steve Miller, aka neuroscienceDC and fellow official #SfN13 blogger has a great post on the best time of day to drink coffee, check it out!