Remember this: Caffeine boosts memory

The latest finding in the world's bottomless cup of coffee studies reveals that the drug helps us recall things.


Elephant Coffee Tree MichaelAllenSmith Flickr.jpg
They say an elephant never forgets. This one is eating a coffee tree. Maybe that's the secret.

The latest finding in the world's  bottomless cup of coffee studies reveals that the drug helps us remember things.

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore  observed that people who took a caffeine pill scored higher on memory tests than did those who swallowed a dummy tablet, the BBC reports in a summary of an article in Nature Neuroscience.

Caffeine, of course, is the stimulant found in coffee and tea.

The research team did not administer beverage. Rather, it gave pills to 160 participants about 5 minutes after it showed them a set of images. Some of the pills contained 200 milligrams of caffeine - an amount comparable to a large cup of java. 

When asked 24 hours later to recall subtle differences in similar images, the individuals who had taken the caffeine-laced tablets outperformed those who took placebos. Many of the "dummy" takers thought similar images were the same. The two groups scored equally on easier memory tasks.

None of the subjects were regular caffeine consumers.

Lead researcher Prof Michael Yassa cautioned against jumping to bold conclusions about the drug's benefits, and issued a reminder that caffeine can trigger side effects like jitteriness and anxiety. He noted: 

"Everything in moderation. Our study suggests that 200mg of coffee is beneficial to those who do not regularly ingest caffeine. But we also show an inverted U-shape dose response suggesting that higher doses may not be as beneficial."

Dr Anders Sandberg from the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford added:

"Caffeine may still be helpful for paying attention to what you are studying and hence help your encoding, but the best way of boosting consolidation is sleep - which might be a problem in this case, if you take the caffeine too close to bedtime."

Put the words of the two experts together and you have some advice you should never forget: Get a good night's rest, and then wake up and smell the coffee!

Cover photo of mug  by Lawrence Sinclair. Photo above of elephant by Michael Allen Smith. Both via Flickr.

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