Enhance Memory with Caffeine

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humanbrainThe majority of people wake up to a new day by drinking at least one caffeine-containing beverage of choice. From tea, to coffee, to carbonated beverages, a variety of drinks served warm, hot or cold, are made with caffeine to meet the needs of millions of people for an instant wake-me-up. Although we all know how effective caffeine can be at getting us up and keeping us alert, the stimulant has now been shown to have another important benefit.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University performed a study on the long-term effects of caffeine on humans’ memory. Michael Yassa, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, worked with his team of scientists to determine the impact caffeine has on long-term memory. Yassa explains in the results of the research, which were published in the science journal Nature Neuroscience, that “we’ve always known that caffeine has cognitive-enhancing effects, but its particular effects on strengthening memories and making them resistant to forgetting has never been examined in detail in humans.” The study performed by Yassa and his team looked at the specific effect of caffeine on reducing forgetting over 24 hours. 

The study was a double-blind trial in which those participants who did not regularly consume caffeinated products were given either a placebo, or a 200mg caffeine tablet, five minutes after studying a series of images. Prior to being given the tablets, salivary samples were taken from the participants to measure their level of caffeine. This was repeated one, three and four hours following the initial test.

On the second day of the study, both groups of participants were tested to determine their ability at recognizing images viewed during the previous day’s study session. Some of the images presented were the same, while others were newly added to the mix. Others were similar, yet different. More in the caffeine group were able to identify the similar yet different images, instead of labeling them as being the same. This ability, called pattern separation, is indicative of a deeper level of memory retention.

Although previous studies indicated little or no effect from caffeine on long-term memory, using the similar images in their study has allowed the research group to recognize that caffeine does, in fact, play a role in long-term memory. The next step for researchers is to find the brain mechanisms in the enhancement that may lead to a better understanding of Alzheimer’s.

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