Saturday, 17 April 2010

Does caffeine help you concentrate?

New research from Johns Hopkins University and published in Nature Neuroscience has looked at the benefits of caffeine to memory 

Trimethylxanthine, or caffeine, is the most widely consumed pharmacologically active substance in the world, and occurs naturally in tea, coffee, cocoa and chocolate products and is added to soft drinks and a variety of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

What methylxanthines do is to disable an enzyme (phosphodieterase) that would otherwise destroy another substance, cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), which works to activate the neurotransmitters in the brain. So once the cAMP is given free rein, the brake on your brain is lifted and it’s all systems go.

So that's the science - but does caffeine help you concentrate?

Without the phosphodieterase brake, caffeine also stimulates the central nervous system: your heart rate, blood pressure, and blood circulation will all increase so it does have a temporary effect on how you feel, and can increase feelings of alertness which, in turn, can make concentration easier - but only in the short term.

This is the effect exploited in drinks like Red Bull, which contains a whopping 80 milligrams of caffeine per can.

But be warned, an excess of caffeine can make you feel jittery and sick, and because it takes around seven hours to leave your system, can interfere with your sleep, too.

In one experiment when a large dose of caffeine was given to a spider, instead of her web being a beautiful spiral, it was a random mess.

So enjoy your caffeinated drinks in moderation, but don’t expect it to compensate for any poor habits - like overwork, inadequate sleep, poor diet - that can impede concentration.

And if you want an alternative kick-start to caffeine, try a large dose of vitamin C - which also blocks phosphodieterase, and elevates levels of cAMP in the brain to similar effect! - but without the caffeine effect.

For more on the Johns Hopkins study

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