Coffee: learning wonderdrug?
Drink coffee, stay smart
Lots of buzz today around the breakthrough trial from the University of Florida showing that coffee, more accurately caffeine, both prevents and reverses symptoms of Alzheimers in mice. Sure, mice trials don’t always transfer to humans, but these mice had the relevant human genes transferred. It suggests that caffeine both blocks and attacks the plaque that causes Alzheimers and memory loss. The University of Florida used 55 mice and gave one half doses of caffeine, similar to around five cups a day for humans, and the other half water. What was astonishing is that after two months the dementia mice had recovered their memories and were the same as the mice who showed no signs of dementia. The results were astonishing. What’s more, these mice had a 50% reduction in the beta-amyloid protein, which forms the plaque that causes brain dementia. Human trials are expected soon.
Coffee and memory
There’s now lots of evidence that coffee improves short-term memory and reaction times by acting on the pre-frontal cortex. Researchers from the University of Innsbruck in Austria, in a group of 15 volunteers given 100 mg of coffee then scanned and tested, showed distinct improvements in memory in the caffeine fuelled group, "those who received caffeine had significantly greater activation in parts of the prefrontal lobe, known as the anterior cingulate and the anterior cingulate gyrus. These areas are involved in 'executive memory', attention, concentration, planning and monitoring."
In another French study researchers compared women aged 65 and older who drank more than three cups of coffee per day with those who drank one cup or less per day. Those who drank more caffeine showed less decline in memory tests over a four year period. The study, published in the journal of Neurology, raises the possibility that caffeine may also protect against the development of dementia.
A refined study from the University of Arizona, published a trial in Psychological Science, showed that in 40 participants, given 250 Mg of coffee or decaffeinated coffee, the group that were given caffeine showed no decline in memory across the day in contrast to the decaffeinated group who showed significant decline.
Coffee shops and learning
Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, reminded me this morning at the Reboot Britain conference, that coffee shops were the social network’ hubs of their day. Long established in the Muslim world, they became the focus for debate and business. Late 17th century coffee shops charged a penny a cup and were called ‘penny universities’, as they were such powerful places of cross-disciplinary debate. By 1739, 551 coffee shops were open in London, many hives of intellectual and business activity. Edward Lloyd’s coffee shop became Lloyds of London. Jonathon’s Coffee House in 1698 listed stock prices, which eventually became the London Stock Exchange. Similarly in New York, a coffee house became the New York Stock Exchange. More recently Starbucks and its imitators, picked up on the laptop workers offering free wifi fuelling work with unfeasibly large cups of coffee.
Coffee is cognitively good for you
Coffee has therefore long fuelled learning, whether it be through the direct stimulation of the brain, increasing attention, improving memory, preventing dementia or providing a social context for debate and work. It’s something we coffee drinkers have always instinctively known!