If you are reading this here today, it’s likely that having a cup of coffee (or more) every day is essential to have the perfect day. But have you ever wondered if coffee has benefits behind giving you a little get up and go every morning? Sure, there are studies looking at how coffee can improve your health in terms of reducing your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, but it doesn’t seem that a lot of information is out there about whether coffee makes your brain function better or make you smarter by drinking it. We’re here to answer that question definitively so you know exactly what the truth is.
First, we’ll look at what caffeine actually does to your brain and how it affects your body on a daily basis. We’ll delve into the mental benefits that drinking coffee can provide for you from making you more alert to providing a better mood, and even offering a longer attention span. We’ll also consider other foods and beverages that can boost your brain power, so you know what to pair with your coffee. We’ll wrap up by considering what types of coffee provide the biggest boost.
The Basics of Caffeine and the Brain
As you may already know, caffeine is a stimulant and is the most commonly used psychoactive drug around the globe. However, we don’t really think of it as a drug, which may be because it is so popular in every location on earth. However, it does have psychoactive effects. This means that coffee leads to changes in the way we interact with and feel about the things going on around us. Despite that, it’s something many people prefer not to go a day without and you may be one of them.
One hypothesis from Harvard neuroscientist, Charles Czeisler, states that the combination of electricity and caffeine has led to the ability for humans to move away from natural wakefulness and sleep patterns. Based on an article he wrote for National Geographic, this is what has enabled humans to move from the farm to the factory in terms of economics.
Coffee Helps People Feel More Alert
The human body is made in a way where it is normal to get tired as the day goes on. This is due to a molecule made in the brain called adenosine. It’s produced all day long and is theorized to help humans get tired to sleep well at night. However, when you consume caffeine, this process alters the process. It takes charge and latches onto the receptors made for adenosine. This is what leads to feeling more alert after drinking a cup of coffee. However, after you have been drinking coffee for a long time, the adenosine adapts to the new system and new receptors are made for the molecule to use. This explains why you might initially feel alert with a single cup of coffee but then need two, three, or four as time goes on.
Caffeine Helps the Brain Ensure a Boosted Mood
So, caffeine can help you feel more alert, which might make you more productive and quick-thinking. But that is hardly the only benefit that caffeine has on your brain. Based on the same practice of blocking adenosine, coffee can help to improve your mood. Larger amounts of glutamine, dopamine, and other stimulants can work harder, which leads to being less fatigued, more alert, and even happier than you normally would be. In fact, many recent studies show that those who consume caffeine have a reduced risk of depression. This can be an even greater effect if the caffeine comes from coffee. Some studies also show that caffeine may help lower risk of suicide.
Not All the Brain Changes Are Positive
When caffeine stimulates the cells in our brain, that has an effect on the pituitary gland. Essentially, the gland believes the body is in an emergency situation and tells the body to start providing higher levels of adrenaline. This is the same hormone that causes our “flight or fight” response. It tells your body that you should either flee a situation or stay and deal with it. Because of this, individuals may find themselves in a more emotionally charged state where we are more anxious, irritable, or both. While the hormone is useful in an emergency situation, it can have a downside when going about the daily tasks of life.
Improved Memory with Coffee Consumption
There are many scientific studies that show caffeine is capable of improving at least some types of memory. The most significant increase is in the ability to remember straightforward information and lists of words. What’s interesting about this study is that it shows this effect is strongest in those who aren’t regularly consuming caffeine on a daily basis but take it in for the purposes of the study. Another study looked at whether introverts or extroverts could expect a higher level of memory boost. This might seem like a strange study subject, but the results are even more so. It seems that extroverts get the largest boost. However, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone is different and while you might do well with large amounts of caffeine, it might make someone else unfocused.
Effects of Coffee on Attention Span
Many coffee drinkers won’t be surprised to find out that caffeinated drinks help when focusing on a task. Especially when someone is fatigued or tire, caffeine offers a boost in the ability to focus. One study out there shows the of commercial drivers who are on the road for long distances, those who consume caffeine in any form are less likely to end up in a crash. However, it’s worth understanding that caffeine jitters are also a real thing and having too much caffeine can have its own set of disadvantages. But if you didn’t get enough sleep and have a lot to do, drinking a cup of coffee is certainly not the worst thing you can do.
Caffeine’s Effect on Certain Medications
If you have ever suffered from migraines or other serious headaches, you may have taken Excedrin or a medication similar to it. These medications are a common remedy for severe headaches when someone wishes to choose something over-the-counter. What you may not know is that in addition to having pain relieving ingredients, it also contains caffeine. But why? Evidence is available that shows taking caffeine with certain medications will lead them to be more effective, kick in more quickly, and last longer. A study done just over a decade ago looked at the differences experienced by people who took both acetaminophen and caffeine against those who took only one. The combination of pain reliever and caffeine caused a larger decrease in pain and that effect tended to last longer, as well.
How Coffee Helps With Dementia and Cognitive Decline
We mentioned earlier that there are tons of studies on coffee, but some have inconsistent findings, especially when it comes to how coffee affects the brain. Often when the findings aren’t clear, scientists use meta-analysis to help. This means that the results of many studies are pooled and analyzed to offer a better source of interpretation. Just this thing has been done recently on the topic of cognitive disorders and the consumption of coffee. Data was pooled for both studies and the studies themselves focused on following healthy people to see if consumption of coffee had any effect on cognitive decline.
The first meta-analysis involved the data from more than 10 cohort studies which used over 29,000 subjects. The idea behind this analysis was to find out if coffee led to any risk for developing dementia or cognitive decline. However, what was found after looking at the data was that those who drank large amounts of coffees had more than 25% less of a risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease when compared with those who drank no or less coffee. There were no useful findings about other types of cognitive decline.
In the second analysis, even more participants were included at over 34,000. It used nine cohort studies to gain the data needed. This analysis showed that people who drank at least two cups of coffee a day had a significant reduction in developing Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline, other forms of dementia, and cognitive impairment. However, it was also shown that those who drank over three cups of coffee a day had a higher risk of cognitive issues. This means that at zero cups of coffee a day there is a high risk. At two cups of coffee, that risk goes down by a large amount. However, at four cups of coffee, it goes right back up again.
Cognitive Benefits of Coffee Defined
- At one time coffee was believed to be a cause of cancer but through research it has been shown that it actually has numerous health benefits.
- Recently it has been proven that coffee has brain protective effects that keep you healthier.
- Consuming a moderate amount of coffee can help lower your risk of dementia, cognitive decline, and cognitive impairment.
- Caffeine, caffeic acids, and chlorogenic acids provide many of the benefits of coffee.
- While some components have more benefits, no single one provides all of them.
- Drinking one to two cups of coffee makes you less likely to experience cognitive issues when compared to those who drink no coffee.
- Having more than three cups of coffee a day can bring with it some risk, so moderation is key.
Where That Leaves Us in Terms of Caffeine and Intelligence
All of this evidence shows that caffeine can certainly make your brain work better in substantial ways. Does it make you smarter? That depends on your definition of the word. If having better focus, higher levels of motivation, higher attention span, and improved memory boils down to you being smarter, then yes, coffee can help with that. While it may not actually change who you are or making you understand rocket science overnight, it can offer many benefits just by enjoying a cup of coffee every morning.
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What to Know About the Scent of Coffee and the Brain
So, now that you know how drinking coffee can have an effect on your brain, let’s talk about what the actual scent of coffee can do. It may seem a bit strange that an odor would affect you at all on such a serious level, but studies show it is true. Based on research in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, simply taking in the smell of coffee may help boost the performance of your brain.
The Stevens School of Business, along with researchers from Baruch College and Temple University, did two different studies on just this topic. One of the studies had researchers look at people’s performance while taking the Graduate Management Aptitude Test, which is often required to go into graduate school for business majors. The subjects in the study took a 10-question algebra test in a computer lab but were divided into two groups. The first group were in a room with the scent of coffee, while the second group were in a room without the scent. It turned out that the first group has substantially higher test scores.
As a follow-up to the first study, a survey was given to 200 different participants which quizzed them on their thoughts about certain scents and what, if any, effect they had on performance. Many of the participants noted feeling more energetic and alert after smelling the scent of coffee as opposed to no scent or the scent of a flower. The participants also said that being exposed to the scent of coffee led to better performance on mental tasks.
Whether the scent of coffee itself led to the better performance or it was simply a matter of believing that it did, it shows that smelling coffee has some of the same effects as drinking it would in terms of your brain performance. That’s on top of the benefits coffee is proven to have like lower risk of dementia, heart disease, and diabetes. So next time you have an exam or presentation due, think about enjoying the scent of coffee to ensure your best performance.
Additions to Your Coffee That Can Expand the Brain Benefits
We’ve established that coffee can help your brain operate at peak performance, but it’s not the only thing you can consume for those benefits. If you’re looking for the best performance at work or on a major exam at school, you may want to add some of these other foods to your diet. Food that contains fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids are great for offering this little boost. You can enjoy them while you sip on your cup of coffee to ensure you are in the best shape ever for whatever is coming your way.
It might be surprising to find out that cacao nibs can offer health benefits, but we’re here to set the record straight. This is actually considered one of the top brain foods, along with blueberries and salmon. That said, you should look for nibs that have a high percentage of cacao or cocoa for the best results. Beyond offering help with your brain power, eating foods made with this ingredient can also help reduce your risk of heart disease. Studies show is can also have positive effects on cancer and metabolic disorders. This is one food you shouldn’t feel guilty about consuming.
Avocado has tons of healthy fats and plenty of protein, which makes it a great option for breakfast with your coffee. If you’ve never tried avocado toast, you now have all the permission you could needs. If you eat both eggs and avocado, you’ll not only feel more energized but can also benefit from better blood circulation. Beyond those benefits, avocado may also help in terms of reducing seizures and preventing strokes related to high blood pressure. With this food nearly as popular as coffee, it’s a good thing that both can offer such extreme benefits for your body and mind.
Tomatoes may not be the first food you think of when it comes to boosting the power of your brain, but that’s all about to change right now. An antioxidant called lycopene is found in tomatoes that is fantastic for your brain, even to the point of helping to prevent dementia. However, there is one little thing you need to know. Lycopene is only available in tomatoes that have been cooked. So, snacking on a handful of cherry tomatoes from your garden won’t offer this benefit but enjoying a bowl of tomato soup will. That said, you should always look for products that have minimal amounts of sugar whenever possible.
When it comes to blueberries, there are many health benefits both for your body and brain. These small fruits are low on the glycemic index, which makes them fantastic for diabetics, and contain a large dose of fiber. But on the brain front, this fruit is linked with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s and proven to improve motor skills and learning ability. If you’re dealing with large amounts of stress in your life, this is one food you want to have around. And it doesn’t even matter if you eat them raw, cooked, or otherwise.
Green Leafy Vegetables
While many people prefer some green leafy vegetables more than others, that isn’t a problem. Everything from arugula to kale, spinach, romaine, and lolla rossa can offer brain benefits that will complement those you get from drinking coffee. All of these veggies have large amounts of iron, something that many Americans are deficient in. Having a deficiency can lead to fatigue, foggy thinking, restless leg syndrome, poor mood, and other cognitive problems. Cooking up a plate of greens can help you ensure you have plenty of iron and will have positive effects on your brain at the same time.
You may already know that omega 3 fatty acids are supposed to be fantastic for your brain, but what you may not know is exactly why. The reality is that these fats can provide improved memory, higher levels of alertness and cognition, better mood, and reduced anxiety and depression. It’s also known to lower the risk of degenerative mental diseases like dementia. One of the best sources of these fats is none other than wild salmon, but if you aren’t a huge fish lover, there are other options. Regardless, make sure you stay away from farmed salmon, which does not provide the same level of benefits.
Eggs are another great choice to boost your brain along with your morning coffee. They contain fat and protein which gives you plenty of energy while also offering a boost in mood courtesy of selenium. They also have other vitamins like choline, folate, B6, and B12. The B vitamins can help you stave off mental decline as you age while also regulating the level of sugar in the brain. While there isn’t as much research on eggs and brain health as some other foods, what there is looks promising. And those of you worried about cholesterol should know that it looks like that may not be as big of a problem as it was once thought.
Nuts of All Sorts
Nuts have healthy fats, plenty of fiber, and protein to keep you going. It’s no wonder they are such a popular snack food. Nuts give you a nice boost of energy but without worry over a crash later. In addition, they contain large amounts of vitamin E which is helpful for cognitive function. Eating unsalted, plain, raw nuts is the best option but if you prefer another option, that’s okay too. It’s best to stay away from nuts with lots of seasoning or sugars, though. Some of the best nuts to make a part of your diet are almonds, cashews, walnuts, filberts, and hazelnuts. For the best results, go with an organic raw nut of your choice.
Enjoy adding cloves of garlic to all your meals? You may be onto something when it comes to brain power. Fresh garlic has many nutritional benefits and you can consume as much as you’d like. Garlic helps strengthen your cardiovascular system and drops the amount of bad cholesterol in your body. When it comes to the brain, lit also provides powerful antioxidants. However, peeled or chopped garlic isn’t going to provide those same benefits. It might take a minute to chop and peel it on your own, but the benefits far outweigh the small inconvenience. Go for local organic garlic if you can find it in your area.
Just like nuts, seeds of all sorts promote better brain health. You can choose from flax seed, sunflower seeds, or sesame seeds. Another great option is tahini, which is a tangy sesame butter that works well as a replacement for salad dressing or mayonnaise. All of these seeds have a substantial amount of good fats and protein. They also offer vitamin E, which helps to fight stress, and magnesium, which is known to help boost brain power. You want to look for organic seeds which are not overly processed or highly seasoned. However, seeds, veggies, and fruits are all generally better for the environment than meats or cheeses.
Tuna is another food that contains large amounts of omega 3 fatty acids. The best source is yellowfin tuna, which also have more vitamin B6 than any other food out there. B6 has been proven to help your long-term brain health and improve both cognition and memory. While all B vitamins are important for balancing your moods, B6 is the most crucial as it has an influence on the dopamine receptors in your brain. The best tuna to consume is from a sustainable fishery. However, those who are vegetarian or vegan can receive a large amount of B6 from eating bananas, although it isn’t the same level associated with tuna.
Another great breakfast food to enjoy with your coffee is oatmeal. While you may know that it has benefits for your cardiovascular system, it can also improve the health of your brain. Oatmeal also contains a small amount of omega 3s, tons of fiber, and a decent amount of protein. This is one of the best grains to sustain you from breakfast and into lunch, so you don’t find yourself dealing with an energy crash or irritability. Look for steel-cut oatmeal for the best possible results and stay away from additional sugar. It will work perfectly with your latte or cappuccino when you get up in the morning.
Are you a carbohydrate lover? Beans are a fantastic source of it and also can help improve brain health. They offer protein, fiber, minerals, and vitamins in abundance, but for the purposes of this article, what matters is that they can make your brain work better. This meal will provide a steady source of glucose to your brain, which means you have plenty of energy without worry about a crash. What’s even better is that beans are super inexpensive and buying a bag will provide you with a ton of meals. However, you don’t want to completely overdo it on them, either, so everything in moderation applies.
Another fruit that goes well with your morning coffee is pomegranate. If you need extra fiber, make sure you eat the fruit rather than sipping on the juice form. This fruit has the same level of antioxidants as you can expect from blueberries, which is essential for keeping your brain healthy. The antioxidants can help offset stress, so this is something many Americans could do with more of. Do keep in mind that many pomegranates are local and only available seasonally, so you can’t eat them the entire year. When they are not available, great alternatives include grapes, acai, and cherries.
Another carbohydrate that is low on the glycemic index is brown rice. It’s also an option that works well for those sensitive to gluten who wish to make sure their cardiovascular health is in check. You might wonder how this applies to boosting your brain, but the better your circulation is running, the sharper your brain can run in tandem with it. When buying rice, avoid the minute rice packets which will not have the same level of nutrients. Your best option is to make a large batch on a weekend and then just use it throughout the week as needed.
Just like coffee, most tea contains a substantial amount of caffeine. As such, many of the same benefits we mentioned with coffee will be available when drinking tea. However, you need to be sure that the tea you drink has been brewed fresh in order to get all of the benefits of the antioxidants that it contains. You also should watch how much tea you drink in a day, so you don’t go overboard with the caffeine content. The best tea to consume is organic and fair tradebut it can come in packets or loose leaf, whichever you prefer.
We talked about cacao nibs, but chocolate is also a great option for boosting your brain health. However, not all chocolate is made the same. The kind that is the healthiest is going to be fair-trade, organic, ultra-dark chocolate. The processed sugar-filled milk chocolate isn’t quite the same quality, unfortunately. Dark chocolate has tons of antioxidants and can also offer you a large dose of serotonin. This is known as the happiness hormone, which may be why chocolate often results in a great mood. Beyond that, it has a ton of fiber which leads to better cardiovascular health and, in turn, a healthier brain.
Fat is just as important to your body and brain as glucose is. In fact, many studies have shown that low-fat diets aren’t quite what they’ve been marketed to be. Avoiding fat entirely can lead to mood swings, trouble thinking, and even insomnia. Having healthy fats ensures you have balanced moods, clear thinking, and a top-notch memory. The best fats to consume are healthy ones such as nuts, olive oil, oily fish, flax, and avocados. The processed fats are the ones that you should pass right by. These can be found in fried foods, candy bars, pastries, junk food, chips, and other prepared foods.
The oyster is a food that has lots of protein, selenium, magnesium, and other nutrients that are fantastic for your brain health. While not every shellfish is great for your health, oysters are one that fit the bill. A study that was done on men who ate oysters showed a higher level of cognition as well as a better mood. And while it doesn’t relate to the health of your brain or being smarter, oysters are also one of the more environmentally friendly of seafoods you can eat, so that is an extra perk. Eating them can sharpen your mind and improve your thinking. The best oysters will be organic and wild-caught.
What Sort of Coffee is Best for the Brain
Now that you have an idea of what coffee can do in terms of your brain and have some ideas of what other foods will help, it’s worth considering which coffee has the highest level of benefits. Drinking any coffee of a moderate amount can help lower the risk of various diseases and help keep your brain in great shape. However, some coffees are just a bit better than the rest.
If you grab a bag of coffee at your local supermarket, you may not be getting the optimal benefits. The traditional methods of roasting are responsible for destroying a large amount of polyphenols. One in particular is most important and that is chlorogenic acid. So, sure, you get some brain boosting powers, but you aren’t going to be at tip-top shape with a traditional boring coffee from your grocer.
The good news is that there are alternatives. A new technique for roasting beans is gaining popularity. It works to preserve as much of the polyphenol content of the beans as is possible. Basically, the coffee beans will be soaked in water and then drained before they are ever roasted. This allows the water to capture the important polyphenols. Once the beans are roasted, they are put back into the water, so they can reabsorb what would have been lost during roasting.
When you compare this new technology to traditional roasting, you get a much higher level of polyphenol. In fact, it can be as much as 250% more than in a regular cup of coffee. Because of this, the new technique is becoming popular for those who want the highest level of health benefits but without having to drink as much coffee.
The Wrap Up
As you can see, there are tons of great brain benefits associated with coffee. Coffee can help with your focus, your alertness, your productivity, and more. In addition, drinking moderate amounts of coffee can reduce your risk of dementia. There are also many other foods that can amplify this benefit to keep your brain in the best possible health. Combining coffee and these healthy foods can give you an edge on those who are around you.
All coffee has benefits for you, but recently a new roasting technique has been proven to be the ultimate choice. If this is something that is important to you, it may mean you need to switch to a specialty roaster who offers alternative options. Regardless of whether you do that or not, coffee is likely offering you all sorts of brain benefits and may even be making you smarter in the process!
1. Does coffee increase attention?
Coffee is a mild stimulant that has an effect on the central nervous system. It has been shown in various studies that coffee can improve not only attention but alertness, mental focus, and concentration, as well.
2. Does drinking coffee before an exam help
For some people coffee can help with exams since it increases focus, concentration, and attention. It’s a good idea to drink about an hour before your exam is scheduled.
3. Should I drink coffee before SAT?
If you typically drink coffee, you should consume the normal amount before your test. However, don’t drink coffee if it’s not something you normally do. It may make you anxious and put you off your game.
4. Does coffee increase IQ?
While coffee can speed up your rate of thinking, it is not going to cause any change to your IQ, whether negatively or positively.
5. How often should I drink coffee?
This is going to vary based on the amount of coffee in your cup and how much caffeine it contains. Experts recommend taking in no more than 400 mg a day.
6. Does coffee help memory?
Some studies show that coffee may be capable of boosting your long-term memory. It also has properties that can stave off dementia.
7. Is 700 mg of caffeine too much?
Based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, having more than 400 mg of caffeine is a day should be avoided. Drinking too much coffee can cause sleep problems, nausea, increased anxiety, and headaches.
8. Is there a crash after coffee?
Based on research by Brown University’s Health Services, caffeine has an effect for about four to six hours. After that point, some individuals may notice a crash as the effects wear off.
9. Is espresso stronger than coffee?
The answer to this depends on various factors, but one shot of espresso has about 40 mg of caffeine while a 12 oz cup of coffee has 120 mg. However, depending on how much you drink of either, the answer may be different.
10. Does blonde coffee have more caffeine?
Those who measure their coffee by scoops will find a light roast has more caffeine. However, if you weigh the scoops themselves, dark roast has more caffeine as it has a smaller mass.
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