It’s a ritual: you stumble into the kitchen at dawn, pour yourself a hot cup of coffee and let the caffeine smooth your rough edges. It gets your mental alertness going, so it sounds paradoxical that coffee also … shrinks your brain?
Scientists at the University of Basel took an inventory of the gray matter in people’s brains after 10 days of daily caffeine consumption compared to none and found that the caffeinated group had measurably less gray matter in the part of the brain that controls things like memory. “Daily caffeine consumption influences our cognitive hardware,” says study co-author Carlin Reichert.
While researchers are still trying to understand the direct effects of caffeine on brain neurons, one thing is clear: the gray matter loss is not due to sleep disturbance from a Java-wired brain. People in the study slept the same with or without caffeine, suggesting that it is the drug itself that is messing up your mind.
The good news: after 10 days without caffeine, the gray matter returned to higher levels.
It is not yet time to sell your espresso machine, but it may be advisable to change your coffee and cola habits: the study participants consumed 450 milligrams a day, reducing the brain-shrinking effects.
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