According to research conducted by scientists at the University of Basel, in Switzerland, caffeine directly impacts the structure of the brain. A reduction in gray matter is observed, although the modifications would be temporary. At the same time, this psychoactive substance would not lead to sleep disorders, contradicting a widely accepted concept today.
Coffee and other products that include caffeine are consumed daily and in large quantities throughout the world. It is evident that this substance helps us to stay awake and focused when we need to perform different daily tasks, but its impact on the brain has always raised various controversies.
While some studies suggest a positive impact, for example regarding the memory or even in the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases, other research has concluded that it could alter sleep rhythms and, as a consequence, cause changes in brain structure over time.
So what are the concrete consequences of regular caffeine consumption on the brain? The new study by the Swiss researchers has asked this question, according to a Press release. And the answer is somewhat surprising: they have found that caffeine modifies the structure of gray matter, but nevertheless this is not related to changes in sleep patterns, since they are not generated by coffee or drinks energizers.
Gray matter brings together the parts of the central nervous system composed primarily of the cell bodies of nerve cells. In the study, the scientists found a particular impact on the right medial temporal lobe, including the hippocampus, a region of the brain that is essential for memory consolidation.
The research, recently published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, was conducted on a sample of 20 young people who regularly consumed caffeine. They were asked to maintain their habit for two 10-day periods, subsequently discontinuing it for the same period.
In the period of consumption of the substance they were given caffeine tablets, while in the period of abstinence they were replaced by a placebo. At the same time, the experts measured the gray matter volume of the volunteers using brain scans and investigated the quality of sleep by recording the electrical activity of the brain (EEG), at the end of each of the 10-day periods.
Sleep patterns and gray matter
As mentioned above, when analyzing the results, they found that sleep patterns remained stable: caffeine had not affected the quality of their rest. However, they found a reduction in gray matter in the participants. The impact would be temporary, since the gray matter increased its volume again in the periods of placebo consumption, when the caffeine was eliminated.
“Changes in brain morphology appear to be temporary, but more systematic comparisons are now lacking between habitual coffee drinkers and those who generally do not consume caffeine,” said Dr. Carolin Reichert, one of the study’s authors. The specialist remarked that the research results do not necessarily mean that caffeine consumption has a negative impact on the brain.
From now on, scientists believe that it is necessary to carry out new studies aimed at evaluating the cognitive consequences of these changes in brain morphology, to know if they are specifically translated into some type of variations in the skills and abilities developed by people.
Daily Caffeine Intake Induces Concentration-Dependent Medial Temporal Plasticity in Humans: A multimodal double-blind randomized-controlled trial. Yu-Shiuan Lin, Janine Weibel, Hans-Peter Landolt, Francesco Santini, Martin Meyer, Julia Brunmair, Samuel M. Meier-Menches, Christopher Gerner, Stefan Borgwardt, Christian Cajochen and Carolin Reichert. Cerebral Cortex (2021) .DOI: https: //doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhab005
Photo: Tomoko Uji en Unsplash.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.