Wake up and smell the coffee. No kidding. A new study from the University of Minho School of Medicine in Portugal says it’s the aroma plus the sight and flavor of that dark rich brew–not the caffeine alone–that sends a sense of energy zipping through your brain and body.
Study author Nuno Sousa and friends handed 83 volunteers either a cup of regular coffee or plain caffeine diluted in hot water. Their conclusion, reported in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, and documented by follow up MRI scans showed that both groups had less activity in the part of the brain that says, “Rest.”
But–and it’s a big one–the people who got who got coffee demonstrated more activity in brain regions governing short-term memory, attention, and focus. In other words, it’s the coffee experience not caffeine alone that does the heavy lifting. Or, as Sousa put it: “The pleasure that is given to an individual that likes coffee in the morning is part of almost a ritual that really is also important for that individual to feel that ‘I’m ready for the day.’”
John Hopkins neuroscientist Mark Mattson agreed: “People form associations with particular sensory experiences over time, which in turn can influence their future reactions.” Harvard nutritional psychiatrist Uma Naidoo was also on board, adding that even the sight of the coffee may produce the same effect as taste and smell.
And there’s this: While caffeine is a stimulant, it’s healthier to get your lift from coffee rather than soda or energy drinks because caffeine isn’t coffee’s only chemical benefit. As Naidoo notes, coffee beans are also rich in antioxidants and others compounds that may lower blood pressure, attack cancer cells, and improve metabolism, plus trigonelline a natural flavoring with antiviral properties.
But a central issue with coffee is at the center of your body: your heart. Does your heart beat a scary bit faster after a cup or two? Yes, but one major study 4 years ago showed that those who drink moderate amounts of coffee (one to three cups per day) appeared to have a lower risk of the unhealthy fast beat problem, atrial fibrillation. Perhaps, as the Harvard report reported, it’s because that although they slept an average half hour less a night, the coffee drinkers also took an average 1,000 extra steps a day. In other words, the exercise balanced out the lack of sleep, benefiting their tickers.
As Harvard’s J. Michael Gaziano concludes. “When you look at the evidence as a whole, coffee doesn’t seem to have a positive or negative effect. If you like coffee, enjoy up to a few cups per day—as long as it’s not interfering with your sleep. And don’t dump a lot of cream and sugar into your coffee, since that adds saturated fat and empty calories.”
But you knew that. So kiss the cappuccino goodbye.
If you like coffee, enjoy up to a few cups per day—as long as it’s not interfering with your sleep. And don’t dump a lot of cream and sugar into your coffee.” J. Michael Gaziano, Harvard University researcher