There’s good news for the coffee industry: According to a recent study published in Molecular Psychiatry, a morning cup of joe may not only help keep someone awake, but have other positive impacts on the brain as well (2021).
For the study, researchers from the University of Minho School of Medicine in Portugal recruited 32 coffee drinkers (CD; defined as consuming one or more cups of caffeinated coffee per day) and 24 non-coffee drinkers (NCD). According to the study’s authors, “Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was acquired in these volunteers who were also assessed regarding stress, anxiety and depression scores.” The volunteers were then studied for functional connectivity (FC) within the brain, as well as the overall structure of the brain.
According to the authors, the study revealed, “In the neuroimaging evaluation, the CD group showed decreased functional connectivity in the somatosensory and limbic networks during resting state as assessed with independent component analysis. The CD group also showed decreased functional connectivity in a network comprising subcortical and posterior brain regions associated with somatosensory, motor and emotional processing as assessed with network-based statistics; moreover, CD displayed longer lifetime of a functional network involving subcortical regions, the visual network and the cerebellum.”
This decreased connectivity found in the right precuneus and right insular area of the brains of coffee drinkers suggests improved motor control and better levels of alertness within that group. Increased activity in other areas of the brain suggest improved ability to focus, remember and learn new information. Perhaps most importantly, these effects could accurately be traced back to coffee; when the NCD group consumed a cup of coffee, similar results were seen.
“This is the first time that the effect that drinking coffee regularly has on our brain network is studied with this level of detail,” Nuno Sousa, president, University of Minho School of Medicine in Portugal, wrote. “We were able to observe the effect of coffee on the structure and functional connectivity of our brain, as well as the differences between those who drink coffee regularly and those who don’t drink coffee, in real time.”
The news wasn’t all good for the world’s estimated 1 billion coffee drinkers, however; higher levels of stress were found among routine coffee drinkers than in those who don’t drink coffee. Given the inherent functional benefits of coffee and other naturally caffeinated beverages, new and innovative products utilizing ingredients like coffee and tea with added boosts like pre- and probiotics and mineral fortification should continue to grow in popularity, both in the U.S. and abroad.