Is caffeine good for the brain? 

October 25, 2023

When we think of caffeine, we often think of coffee and chocolate. It’s therefore not surprising to hear that caffeine is one of the world’s most widely consumed psychoactive substances. But the question is, can caffeine be good for the brain? And, as a follow up question, how much should we be consuming?

First of all it’s important to understand how caffeine actually works, and Professor James Goodwin explains this in his book, Supercharge Your Brain. Within 45-minutes of drinking your coffee, the caffeine enters the bloodstream and starts travelling towards the brain. The caffeine passes easily through the blood brain barrier and once in the brain it inhibits the action of adenosine – the neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. When this happens, the number of receptors for several important neurotransmitters begin to increase. These include serotonin, GABA and acetylcholine, and as they start to increase we feel our mind and bodies become more alert. 

Today’s national health guidelines recommend a moderation consumption to be 400 milligrams per day. That’s roughly four 8-ounce cups of coffee. So, let’s take a look at the brain boosting benefits of consuming caffeine within moderation:

  1. Research has indicated that moderate caffeine intake may be associated with a reduced risk of neurodegenerative disease including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Caffeine contains antioxidants, and it’s these antioxidant properties that protect the neurons in our brains from any damage resulting in neurodegeneration. 
  1. Caffeine has been shown to enhance memory and cognitive function. Moderate caffeine consumption can improve memory retention, learning and various aspects of cognitive function, helping individuals to process information more quickly and efficiently while quickening reaction time and problem-solving skills. 
  1. Did you know that caffeine can actually improve your mood? When consumed, caffeine stimulates the release of certain neurotransmitters including dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which are associated with improved mood and motivation. 
  1. Caffeine withdrawal is often associated with headaches, but at the same time, caffeine is actually used to relieve headaches. Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties, meaning that blood vessels narrow when consumed. This can help alleviate pain by constricting excess blood flow. 
  1. It’s no surprise to hear that caffeine can cause an increase in attentiveness and concentration. Caffeine is after all, a central nervous system stimulant. This means that it blocks the effects of adenosine, and so rather than feeling slow and fatigued, we experience a wakeful period and an enhanced cognitive performance.  

While moderate caffeine consumption can have some cognitive and brain health benefits, it’s important to note that caffeine consumption in excess will have negative effects. These include anxiety, insomnia, digestive issues and an increased heart rate. 

It’s also key to recognise that caffeine affects individuals differently – it is not a one size fits all approach. Some people may be much more sensitive to its stimulating effects than others. This is why it’s crucial to be mindful of your own tolerance and potential sensitivities, limiting your intake to the recommended 400mg per day. 

To read more, Supercharge Your Brain by Professor James Goodwin can be purchased here