Tag Archives: memory

Good News Monday: Your Brain on Caffeine

Woman smiling as she drinks a cup of coffee or tea
(© Antonioguillem – stock.adobe.com)

It’s all in your mind… in a good way, according to this Portuguese study.

People who drink 3-5 cups of coffee a day are more alert, have better memory

by Study FindsShareTweet

BRAGA, Portugal — It’s no secret that shot of caffeine from a morning coffee can give many people a quick boost. Now, a new study finds going for that second and third cup may be good for your brain. Researchers in Portugal say people who regularly drink coffee are not only more alert, but see more activity in their brains as well.

According to the European Food Safety Authority, moderate coffee consumption is typically three to five cups per day. In the new study, researchers from the University of Minho reveal consuming this much caffeine each day can make coffee drinkers more focused while also displaying greater memory and learning abilities.

Scientists examining MRI scans discovered differences in the makeup of the brains between regular coffee drinkers and those who don’t consume the beverage at all. Coffee drinkers had a more “efficient” brain, with quicker connectivity in the cerebellum, the right precuneus, and the right insular.

Even one cup of coffee can keep you sharp

These patterns show regularly drinking coffee may give people better motor control. Participants consuming caffeine were also less likely to let their minds wander. Study authors add the effects of this brain boost can be immediate. Results show non-coffee drinkers could start seeing benefits for a short time after a single cup of java.

Researchers studied the connectivity and structure of the brain in 31 regular coffee drinkers and 24 non-coffee drinkers while at rest. The team also examined these individuals while they performed a mental task soon after consuming a cup.

“This is the first time that the effect that drinking coffee regularly has on our brain network is studied with this level of detail,” says Professor Nuno Sousa in a university release. “We were able to observe the effect of coffee on the structure and functional connectivity of our brain, as well as the differences between those who drink coffee regularly and those who do not drink coffee in real time.”

“The findings help to understand improving the effects of caffeine, highlighting improved motor control, increased levels of attention and alertness, and benefits in learning and memory,” Prof. Sousa’s team concludes.

Previous studies find the world drinks about three billion cups of coffee each day. Along with brain health, the morning drink of choice for many also has links to increased fat-burning and better heart health.

The findings appear in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

Good News Monday: It’s Not You, It’s Your Brain

Unhealthy, processed food, snacks
(© beats_ – stock.adobe.com)

[Reprinted from studyfinds.org]

Our brains may be wired to seek out junk food, scientists say

by Chris Melore

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WAGENINGEN, Netherlands — If you’ve ever snuck into your kitchen for a midnight snack, you probably know exactly where all the sweet and tasty treats are hidden with your eyes closed. Researchers in the Netherlands say this isn’t just about good memory, the human brain may actually be wired to hunt down high-calorie food. Their study finds humans are significantly better at remembering where junk foods are kept than they are with healthier options.

A team from Wageningen University & Research believes the human brain has evolved to focus on memorizing where high-calorie foods are located. Study authors theorize this allowed our hunter-gatherer ancestors to survive in tough environments with few food options.

The study tested 512 participants who were put through a sort of food-memory maze. Researchers had the group follow a fixed route through a room where eight foods or food-scented pads were strategically placed.

As each participant walked through the maze, they either tasted the food or smelled the pads. These tasty options ranged from apples and cucumbers to potato chips and chocolate brownies. The group was also asked to rate how much they like each food they encountered. Researchers then gave the volunteers a surprise quiz on where these snacks were located.

Junk food more appealing to our mind, too

The results reveal the group was 27 percent more accurate at picking the right locations of high-calorie foods than low-calorie options. Participants were even better with food scents, spotting high-calorie pads with 28 percent more accuracy than low-calorie ones.

Researchers report that the results weren’t affected by whether the high-calorie snack was sweet or savory. It also didn’t seem to matter if the participants liked the foods or not. Overall, people were 2.5 times (or 243 percent) better at memorizing where actual food was compared to food-scented pads.

Is there a downside to this skill?

While this ability likely served humans well in the distant past, the study suggests it could lead to problems today. Researchers hint that the memory bias towards high-calorie foods can create dieting issues for many people.

They add that brains which can resist the urge to hunt down sweeter snacks will likely avoid these dieting problems. Researchers are now looking at how the high-calorie memory bias affects present day eating habits.

The study appears in Scientific Reports.

Avoiding Brain Drain

In hopes of staving off cognitive decline, I’ve been refreshing my French with the help of the free online language courses on DuoLingo. Next up: brushing up on my minimal Italian (one college semester) in preparation for our trip to Sicily, Milan and Florence in October.flag-2292679_640Younger readers may think this is an issue that only affects their parents or grandparents. Not so fast: apparently the seeds of dementia can be sewn in our 30’s, 40’s and 50’s — up to three decades before the disease appears full-blown. Yowza.

Nearly two-thirds of Alzheimer’s sufferers are women. But the good news is that there’s a lot we can do to protect ourselves – at every age. Reducing inflammation, insulin resistance, blood sugar, high LDL cholesterol and vascular problems lowers our risk, and current research now focuses as much on causes as on cures.

The Big Three: Eating, Exercise and Engagement.

EATING

The Mediterranean Diet won’t just keep you slim; it’s literally brain food. Eating veggies, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry and olive oil boosts brain health. And don’t forget the wine: the resveratrol in red wine has many benefits.

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  • Protects the lining of our arteries so blood can flow freely
  • Improves the body’s ability to repair damage caused by free radicals, which helps prevent premature aging of cells
  • Blocks the production of inflammatory agents

What to avoid? Sugar. Too much can lead to obesity and diabetes, both of which increase the risk of dementia. So swap that margarita for cabernet! And watch your cholesterol: high levels can cause plaque buildup in blood vessels and keep blood from effectively reaching all parts of your brain.

EXERCISE

It’s as good for your brain as it is for your butt.

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  • Aerobic exercise builds up grey matter in the cerebral cortex (where memories live), releases chemicals thought to affect learning and memory, and delivers oxygen to your brain.
  • Regular exercise sharpens focus and stimulates nerve cells and blood vessel formation in the hippocampus, another part of the brain associated with memory. Don’t you love the word hippocampus, which sounds like a university for, you know, hippos? (I threw that in to see if you’re paying attention.) hippo-783522_640
  • Studies have shown that strength training improves blood flow to areas of the brain associated with executive function and memory. So pump that iron!
  • Stress busters such as yoga help reduce cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone that can go into overdrive, impairing memory and causing neuron-damaging inflammation.

ENGAGEMENT 

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  • Learn something new and keep doing new things (at least an hour each day).
  • Spend time socializing; it helps build new brain cells.
  • Protect your heart (and not just romantically!) The better it pumps, the more blood can circulate throughout your body, nourishing the neurons and blood vessels in your brain.
  • Feeling bored at work or in a social situation? Wiggle your toes — it snaps you back to the moment.
  • Hit the sheets for at least seven hours. The slow-wave stage before REM sleep is thought to be the time when cognitive function strengthens and consolidates.
  • Take time to relax. It lowers blood pressure to help reduce strain on blood vessels.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my new fitness regimen: lifting several heavy glasses of wine while reading Italian travel guides and researching restaurants. Gotta start someplace, right? Salute e ciao!

Quiz-ical

The other day I took an online Jungian personality quiz three times until I got the personality that felt the most accurate. (If you guessed “obsessive”, you are correct!!)

I’ve been obsessed with quizzes as long as I can remember: “Which Beatle is your soul mate?” “Is your boyfriend cheating on you?” “What’s the most flattering hair style for your face?” “Are you doing everything you can for perfect skin?”

I loved magazines – still do – and the quizzes were some of my favorite features. Nowadays, online quizzes serve a similar function, and challenge my ever-weakening memory: “How many of these 90’s movie scenes can you identify?” (I was so excited to get 100% until I realized everyone gets 100% regardless of their answers.) “Only geniuses will answer this math quiz correctly.” (Not on the first try, because I’m sure there are at least two correct answers. Creativity and math don’t usually go together.)

Quizzes are mini wake-up calls, reassurances that we’re in step with the zeitgeist the way we think we are, ways to bond with other members of our “tribe” (“Your score indicates that you are a Problem Solver!”) and reminders to take stock of things we might otherwise neglect (“Do you take your spouse for granted?”).

They’re often a quick way to learn something new, too. “Can you identify the 5 leading causes of depression?” Or, “Do you know why sugar’s bad for you?”

Back in school, I always did better on multiple-choice tests, vs. an essay test where you had to remember the information without any hints. Even if I had only a vague memory of the chapter we’d studied, once I saw the answer sitting in front of me it would trigger some deep sense of familiarity and I would seize on it like a drowning person reaching for an outstretched log.

My mind is a steel trap when it comes to arcane facts about minor celebrities, fashion trends and other trivia. It’s a sieve regarding most items of significance. I suspect this is because I can only process small pieces of (usually useless) information at a time. Then they rattle around in the back of my brain until shaken loose. Facts about my own life experiences, however, often elude me.

I couldn’t tell you who taught my freshman French class if someone put a gun to my head. Or the names of my kids’ teachers. Or pretty much anything that has to do with geography. Never could.

But show me a list of possible options and I might stumble onto the right choice.

So the next time I can’t remember what the new neighbor does for a living, give me a quiz: It’s either a) doorman, b) Chippendale’s dancer, c) surgeon or d) chef. God help me if the answer is, “None of the above”.