Does Caffeine Improve Memory?

According to a 2011 study, the answer to that question is yes – but only sometimes. That is, for certain short-term memory needs, you’ll definitely get a boost from a cup of coffee that will make you more alert, and it might be easier to remember things quickly. This could come in handy if you need to do some last-minute review before a test or presentation. In the long term, though, there is no definitive proof that caffeine improves memory. In fact, the 2011 study we read concluded that there may be a negative effect of long-term use of high doses of caffeine. Earlier studies done in 2009 showed a decrease in the production of new nervous tissue in the brain, which interfered with the development of neurons. In addition, high levels of caffeine create stress and tension, and many studies have shown that increased stress levels will lead to a decrease in memory, especially in older adults.

Recently, several studies have been done on the use of “energy drinks” containing caffeine, especially by teenagers and college-age youth. Because the human brain continues to develop into a person’s early adult years, overuse of caffeine may result in an inhibition of brain development and a rise in stress-related hormones that cause damage to cells. What’s worse, the popularity of drinks that combine these caffeinated energy drinks with alcohol may be increasing the number of injuries and motor vehicle accidents because the caffeine makes people feel more alert and coordinated than they actually are, while the alcohol is reducing alertness and coordination. Another danger is caffeine overdose; these drinks can have much more caffeine than coffee, and some drink containers are not labelled with the amount. Finally, due to the high caffeine content, energy drinks are very dehydrating. The brain as well as the rest of the body must have adequate hydration to function properly, and too much coffee or caffeinated drinks will lead to fatigue and disorientation if the body dehydrates too much.

References: Persad, Leeana. University of Pretoria, South Africa. Energy drinks and the neurophysiological impact of caffeine. Frontiers in Neuropharmacology (September 2011).