At any time, millions of people around the world are enjoying a cup of coffee. In England alone, we down 70 million cups of the stuff each day. If you’re like us, you have a hard time getting going in the morning until you’ve had your first cup of the day.

Much has been written about the pros and cons of coffee and caffeine, but what’s the bottom line? Is drinking coffee good for your brain’s health? Today, we’re going to cover all you need to know about coffee, and how it affects your brain.

What is Coffee, Anyway?

Next to water, coffee is the most popular drink in the world. Beyond the fact that it’s delicious, coffee packs several powerful benefits that can help you tackle your day. While we’re all familiar with roasted coffee beans, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to coffee.

The coffee we know and love gets its start as the tiny fruit which grows from coffee plants.  Coffee plants are usually grown short, which makes it easier to harvest the ripe fruit from the plant, but they can grow to over 9 meters tall if left unchecked. These plants are quite beautiful, with a mix of flowers, unripe fruit, and ripe fruit.

Inside the fruit of the coffee plant is a seed known as a coffee cherry. This little seed gets roasted, and only then is it recognisable as the coffee beans we know and love.

Active Ingredients

Within each coffee bean, there are several compounds that give coffee the kick it’s so famous for.

  • Caffeine - The most well-known compound within coffee is caffeine. Caffeine is a stimulant, and it’s the most common drug in the world. Caffeine is responsible for the pep in your step you gain after enjoying a cup.
  • CGAs - Also known as chlorogenic acids, these compounds are antioxidants which assist in several different bodily processes including blood sugar metabolism. CGAs are also believed to lower high blood pressure.
  • Cafestol and kahweol - These compounds exist in oils from coffee beans, and they may help reduce the risk of certain cancers and protect your liver. However, overconsumption of these compounds may lead to a rise in cholesterol.

The amount of these substances that are in your cup of coffee vary based on several factors including how the coffee was roasted, the type of beans the coffee comes from, and how much coffee you drink.

How Coffee Affects Your Brain

When we talk about the effects of coffee on the brain, we’re mostly talking about caffeine. Caffeine affects the brain in several different ways, including cognition, memory, and many more.

Our bodies produce a neurotransmitter called adenosine. Adenosine is produced throughout the day, and it bonds to neurons in the brain and promotes drowsiness. Once enough adenosine builds up, we begin to feel drowsy, and that’s when we know it’s time for sleep.

The structure of caffeine is very similar to adenosine, and it’s able to bond to the same neurons in the brain that adenosine does. However, unlike adenosine, which induces feelings of drowsiness, caffeine prevents adenosine from working, which stimulates the nervous system.

Caffeine and Cognition

The effects of caffeine on brain function are well documented, and it’s believed that caffeine can help improve short-term brain function and cognition.

Not only does caffeine prevent the effects of adenosine, but it also promotes the release of other neurotransmitters, including noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. Between caffeine’s ability to circumvent the effects of adenosine and its relationship to other neurotransmitters, it’s believed that caffeine has a positive effect on many cognitive aspects of the brain, including:

  • Reaction time
  • Attention span
  • Mood
  • Learning
  • Problem-solving

Caffeine and Memory

When it comes to the effects of caffeine on memory, the results are a bit more mixed. Several studies have displayed a link between coffee and improvement in short term memory, other studies have found that there was no link, or that coffee may even impair the memory.

When it comes to long term memory, the jury is still out, and it’s difficult to say with any degree of certainty if there’s a link between coffee and long-term memory.

However, one promising recent study on caffeine’s effect on long term memory suggested that test subjects were able to recall information they learned 24 hours prior with greater ease after being given a caffeine tablet. The caffeine also appeared to make this new information more resistant to being forgotten.

Additional Benefits of Caffeine

Perhaps the most well-known benefit of coffee is its ability to stave off the feeling of fatigue and tiredness. After all, this is usually the reason we reach for a cup of coffee in the first place. Significant amounts of research have shown that coffee can reduce feelings of fatigue, although this fatigue reduction is usually short-lived.

There may be additional benefits of coffee consumption, such as a reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or other debilitating mental diseases.

Preliminary studies have suggested that regular coffee consumption can reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease by up to 65%. Similarly, those who drink three cups of coffee per day had reduced their risk of Parkinson’s disease by 29%, according to one study.

Are There Any Negatives Associated With Caffeine?

While there are some amazing benefits of drinking coffee, there are also a few negatives you should be aware of.

Perhaps the most well-known side effect of coffee is directly tied to it’s greatest benefit. Coffee is a stimulant which inhibits feelings of drowsiness. But, what if you’re ready for bed? Some people, particularly those sensitive to caffeine may have trouble sleeping if they regularly drink coffee, especially later in the afternoon or evening.

There's also some evidence that caffeine can be mildly addictive. Some people certainly suffer from withdrawal symptoms.

Another issue is the acidity of coffee. Since coffee is very acidic, it’s associated with heartburn, acid reflux, and other digestive issues. The acid in coffee can erode your stomach and intestinal lining, and this can be especially problematic for people suffering from diseases like IBS or Crohn’s disease.

Because coffee is a stimulant, it’s also associated with increased stress and anxiety in some people. This side effect typically affects people who rarely drink coffee, or are particularly sensitive to caffeine.

Finally, there’s also the issue of coffee and dental hygiene. The acid in coffee can eat away at the enamel of your teeth, and it can also discolour teeth as well.

Should You Be Drinking More Coffee for Your Brain’s Health?

Coffee is one of the most beneficial and well-loved drinks on earth. Each year, millions of Britons turn to a cup of coffee to get their day started or fight off fatigue throughout the day.

There are many benefits of coffee that are directly associated with brain health. There are also a few side effects to be aware of as well. In general, most people can benefit greatly from a cup (or a few cups) of coffee each day, and the side effects associated with coffee aren’t likely to impact them.

Since everybody is different, it’s best to see how coffee affects you as an individual. But one thing is for certain, if you’re looking to push your brain further and unlock some positive cognitive and mental benefits; coffee is one of the first things you should consider.

Author's Bio: 

Barbara Austin is a coffee expert and writer at BeanToCupCoffee.co.uk. She's fascinated by the positive effects coffee can have on our lives.