How caffeine affects your brain

By • Published: July 8th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

As most coffee fiends will tell you, nothing starts the day like the piping-hot, caffeinated elixir that is the morning cup of joe. Followed closely, of course, by First Cup’s pals, Second Cup and Third Cup.

But when it comes to kicking your brain into gear, how much does all this caffeine really help you?

Not a lot, perhaps, as University of Vermont researchers recently found while studying caffeine withdrawal’s effects on the brain. They separated test subjects into four groups. Two groups spent half the study taking a dose of caffeine equivalent to about three cups of coffee. For the rest of the study, they took a placebo. Another group stayed on caffeine the whole time. The last group was always given a placebo. The researchers compared the groups and found no evidence habitual caffeine use benefits the brain.

However, they did pinpoint how caffeine withdrawal symptoms might occur.

Going off caffeine seems to increase blood flow to parts of the brain, potentially explaining why so many people get “caffeine” headaches when they go too long without drinking it. The researchers also recorded the brain’s electrical activity and found changes related to another symptom of caffeine withdrawal… fatigue.

For coffee lovers, the question is to drink or not to drink? For most people, moderate amounts of caffeine, like two cups of coffee a day, are O-K, according to the Mayo Clinic.

But depending on your health and what medications you take, it may be best to retire your mug.