Does coffee improve memory?
A cup of coffee might be just what you need if you find your memory slipping. That cup might boost your short-term memory, according to recent research. Considering that the average daily caffeine consumption per person in the United States is about 238 milligrams (mg) or the equivalent of 4.5 cups of coffee–compared with only 76 mg or 1.5 cups of coffee among the worldwide population–Americans should have a sharp short-term working memory.
In a study of 15 healthy men aged 26 to 47 years, significant activity was observed in the memory center of the brain through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) 20 minutes after the men drank 100 mg of caffeine. The findings were recently presented at a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. Florian Koppelstaetter, MD, of the University Hospital, Innsbruck, Austria, said that the increased brain activity could be seen in the anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain responsible for some short-term memory functions. Dr. Koppelstaetter said that the activity occurred in a part of the brain that controls attention and concentration, confirming the impact of caffeine in the process.
Volunteers viewed a sequence of simple images and were asked to determine if the images shown two sequences later were the same as those shown earlier. This task was performed after a 12-hour period during which no caffeine or nicotine was used. Volunteers then performed the same tasks after taking 100 mg of caffeine, equivalent to about two cups of coffee, and a placebo. The fMRI scans were taken during the caffeine-free and caffeine-intake periods.
In the “caffeine condition,” volunteers showed improved short-term memory skills and reaction times. At this time, the fMRI showed increased activity in parts of the brain affected by the caffeine intake.
Although this study appears to demonstrate that caffeine “exerts an influence on the function of the normal brain,” the impact of caffeine on overall mental resources is still not clear. And how long the effect lasts remains a question.
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