You wouldn’t imagine – coffee really is a mind-enhancing drug. Here’s how you can use it

Humans drink around two billion cups of coffee a day, which is a little ironic given that the plant has evolved caffeine to avoid being consumed by parasites. But humanity’s appetite for caffeine seems to be on the rise – and maybe that’s not a bad thing.

In addition to helping us get through rough mornings, coffee can actually help our brains stay in shape. In fact, according to a number of studies, there are reasons to start thinking of coffee as a type of mind-enhancing drug.

Coffee as a (good) drug

Early studies seemed to suggest that coffee has a dark side, noting that coffee is associated with a range of health issues, both physical and mental. But more recent studies seem to have found more positive effects and fewer negative effects. An important reason for this is the control of other factors, particularly smoking (smokers tend to drink more coffee) and a sedentary lifestyle.

That’s not to say that all recent studies on coffee are good, there is still a lot of disputed science on coffee, but the trend seems to have changed. In fact, published scientific studies are increasingly beginning to consider coffee a mind-altering drug (a drug that affects behavior, mood, thoughts, or perception).

“Caffeine is the most widely used mind-altering drug in the world, with numerous studies documenting the effects of caffeine on alertness, alertness, mood, concentration and attention,” write the authors of a recent study. on the effect of coffee on problem solving. .

The study found that participants who consumed 200 mg of caffeine (about one cup of coffee) showed significantly improved problem-solving abilities compared to a placebo. Although this was a small study with only 88 participants, the results are consistent with other recent reports.

Notably, a 2016 review found that around 1–2 cups of coffee daily “improve a wide range of basic cognitive functions with minimal side effects by preventing alertness and attention lapses associated with under-stimulated arousal.” optimum”. However, the study notes that the effects of caffeine on higher-order executive skills, complex judgments, emotional discernment, and decision-making are “unclear and require further study.”

Coffee can also be good for your body. A broad review of previous studies found that coffee can help you live longer, noting that previous inconsistencies were once again linked to the lack of correction for smoking.

“Consumption of 1 to 5 cups of coffee per day was linked to lower mortality among non-smokers, in studies that adjusted for or packaged years of smoking, and in studies that adjusted for healthy and unhealthy foods,” says analysis.

How to Use Coffee as a Mind-Boosting Medicine

By now it’s probably starting to sound like an article written by the coffee lobby, but rest assured it’s not, and we’ll go over the downsides, uncertainties, and potential negative effects soon. associated with coffee.

But if you want to harness the power of coffee and “biohack” yourself, there are ways to try and be effective. For example, one tip is to drink coffee just before a (short) nap. Yes, you read that right: have a coffee before a nap.

There is a study on this, and the idea is that short naps (even naps as short as 10 minutes) are the most effective in restoring alertness and alertness. Thus, having a coffee before a nap can help you wake up after a not too long period of time (long naps are associated with reduced attention and alertness).

If you want to take it to the next level, Department of Defense scientists have created a free web-based tool that draws on existing research to help you dose your coffee and reduce impairment. The interface takes a bit of getting used to, but navigation isn’t difficult. The central idea is that you get a temporary boost in alertness.

There’s also more than one way to make coffee – in fact, looking at the menu of most cafes these days, it seems there are nearly endless ways to make coffee. But one way is significantly less popular, though it may be healthier: cold brew coffee.

Cold brew coffee is not hot coffee that you have cooled down or put on ice, it is coffee that has been brewed at room temperature. Basically, if you put ground coffee in water, it will gradually release its caffeine and antioxidants into the water. The main downside is that you need about 24 hours for the coffee, but the upside is that cold brew coffee has a lot more caffeine in it and can therefore provide more mind-enhancing abilities. However, as it is still a relatively unpopular style of brewing, few studies have been done with this type of coffee.

It must also be said that many (but probably not all) of the benefits of coffee come from caffeine, which would therefore partly also translate to other coffee drinks (such as black tea, for example).

Yes, but

Coffee still carries significant potential health risks, primarily due to its caffeine content – ​​which is also what gives it most of the positive effects. It can temporarily raise blood pressure, especially if you drink several cups of it a day, which is why it’s not recommended for people with high blood pressure, although it’s not usually linked to cardiovascular problems anymore. important (always consult your doctor, ask if you need to reduce your consumption of caffeinated drinks).

In addition to increasing cognitive performance, caffeine increases the perception of alertness and wakefulness, but it can also cause anxiety, especially in high doses. Also, because caffeine is a stimulant, it can trigger seizures in some people. Coffee is also linked to cerebral vasoconstriction. Other side effects, such as heartburn, nervousness or insomnia, have also been reported.

However, although this topic is still hotly debated, most of the downsides of coffee seem to appear in high doses (>4 cups per day), and high doses of coffee can damage your brain instead of helping it. However, if you don’t drink your coffee with sugar, cream, and filter it (unfiltered coffee is associated with higher “bad” cholesterol), chances are you can include some amount of coffee in a normal diet.

“The overall evidence was quite compelling that coffee was more healthy than harmful in terms of health outcomes,” Frank Hu, chair of the nutrition department at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said in an article in the April 5, 2021. in Discover. “For most people, moderate coffee consumption can be incorporated into a healthy diet.”

However, it must be said that even the cognitive-enhancing properties of coffee are still under discussion, especially since the studies are new and still relatively few. Some researchers note that the cognitive benefits of caffeine are primarily associated with relieving withdrawal symptoms rather than “true” cognitive improvements.

Ultimately, coffee science has changed in recent years and could change again. As with all things, balance is key – and while it seems like coffee can have positive effects on your mind, and if you’re smart about it you can harness them, it always pays to keep keep an eye out for any new studies.

Luckily, that’s what we’re here for.

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