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Last Updated on January 11, 2021

Latest Scientific Research Shows That Coffee Is Actually Good For Your Brain

Latest Scientific Research Shows That Coffee Is Actually Good For Your Brain

There’s been a lot of coffee-related news floating around the Internet lately. Most of the studies cited in news articles attempt to highlight the benefits or risks of consuming caffeine on a regular basis. Is too much harmful to our health? Can just the right amount of it significantly improve the quality of our lives as we age?

We’ve read about evidence of how drinking coffee affects blood pressure, energy, our risk of developing diabetes and even our risk of death. Most experts agree that, like many commonly consumed substances, coffee is pretty good to us in moderation. A new study out of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease now shows us evidence that drinking coffee in moderate amounts is even better for us, our brains specifically, than we originally thought.

What is mild cognitive impairment, and what does coffee have to do with it?

We have all heard of the ageing population or perhaps our own loved ones developing debilitating diseases that affect the way they think and behave. Before developing more severe conditions, however, some develop a cognitive decline called mild cognitive impairment slightly more severe than what is associated with normal ageing, but much less severe than diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

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Mild cognitive impairment develops as a precursor to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. According to Mayo Clinic, developing mild cognitive impairment actually increases a person’s risk of developing more severe cognitive disorders.

It turns out drinking a few daily doses of coffee can actually reduce a person’s risk of developing these mild problems related to memory, language and thinking.

How do we know? Let’s take a closer look at the evidence.

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The study

Researchers studied the relationship between average amount of coffee consumed, either changing or constant, and incidence, or occurrence, of mild cognitive impairment in 1,445 “cognitively normal” subjects aged 65-84 years.

Some participants started out consuming a low amount of coffee per day, one cup or fewer, and increased their consumption to one to two cups per day. Other participants consumed a constant amount of one to two daily cups of coffee for the duration of the study.

Results implied that participants who had a constant habit of consuming one to two cups of coffee per day, or a daily moderate amount, had a reduced risk of developing mild cognitive impairment compared to those who either increased or decreased their consumption.

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What’s the science behind this relationship?

There’s a reason many of us can’t function in the morning without a cup or two of coffee pulsing through our systems. When caffeine enters our bodies, it prevents us from absorbing a certain chemical that normally blocks other excitatory brain chemicals. In much simpler terms, drinking coffee gives us more energy and has the potential to, over time in consistent, moderate amounts, slow age-related mental decline as we get older. With those excitatory brain chemicals free to roam on a regular basis, our brains will most likely remain in much better shape longer than they would if those chemicals remained blocked.

Here’s the key takeaway

The study described above found no association between high or low levels of coffee consumption and reduced risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, which means consuming only moderate amounts of coffee per day, one to two cups, had this effect. So if you’re planning to rely on coffee alone to keep your mind sharp as you age moderation, as always, is the best strategy.

Many studies have managed to show us coffee in the morning isn’t the worst possible habit to uphold. What’s important to remember is that too much of a good thing isn’t so good after all – but just the right amount, in this case, can earn you a healthier, clearer mind the older you get.

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Featured photo credit: David Joyce via flickr.com

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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

 A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

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“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

“When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

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When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

“All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

Silence relieves stress and tension.

It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

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A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

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But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

Summation

Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

Reference

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