Posts Tagged ‘Caffeine’

Everyday Placebos

August 31, 2018

This post is taken from Feature article by David Robson in the 25 August 2018 issue of the New Scientist.

Caffeine: If a strong espresso sets your nerves jangling, that may be large to your expectations. Even pure water increased alertness and raised blood pressure in volunteers who were told it contained caffeine. As for those withdrawal symptoms when you can’t get your morning cup of Joe, they might be all in your head, too.

Sports supplements: There is little scientific backing for many of these products, but studies show that people only have to believe they are taking performance enhancers or energy drinks to show greater stamina and strength. Even the effects of steroids may be boosted by a placebo response.

Designer brands: Are they really better than generics? Not necessarily. People tricked into thinking they were wearing designer sunglasses could more easily decipher small writing through the glare of a bright light than those who thought they were wearing less prestigious brands.

Booze: Drinking culture is full of urban myths, including the idea that adding Red Bull to vodka “gives you wings.” Studies reveal that the power of expectation is what really increased feelings of drunkenness.

Lucky charms: They work because we believe they will. Golfers who thought they were using a professional’s putter perceived the hole to be larger and easier to putt—and were more accurate as a result.

Food for a Healthy Memory

January 24, 2015

When I saw the lead article in the Washington Post Health & Science Section (6 Jan 2015) by Bonnie Berkowitz and Laura Stanton titled “Food for thought: Is your brain missing something?” I felt obligated to pass it on to my healthymemory blog readers. The neuroscience professor Gay Wenk, author of Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings, notes “Our brains need certain nutrients to keep us happy, focused, and functioning at our best. But moderation is key, and gobbling more of a particular nutrient helps only if you are making up for a deficiency.” Now on to substances that are good for the brain.

Antioxidants are important because they delay cognitive decline by neutralizing free radicals, which are by products of our oxygen guzzling metabolism that damage cells by causing inflammation. People who exercise a lot tend to eat more and breathe more heavily, which results in more free radicals. Flavonoids, one type of antioxidant, improve blood flow to the brain and enhance its ability to form memories, especially in conjunction with exercise. Antioxidants can be found in colorful vegetables and fruits, red wine, cocoa, calf and beef liver.

Caffeine seems to protect the brain, although scientists are not sure exactly how. Caffeine is found in coffee, many kinds of tea, cocoa, many sodas, and dark chocolate.

Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and an important component of brain cell membranes. A deficiency has been linked to brain disorders such as depression. Correcting a deficiency can boost the brain’s plasticity enhancing cognition and learning. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in salmon, tuna and other fatty fish, plants such as flaxseed, walnuts and other nuts.

Tryptophan is an amino acid used to make seratonin, an essential mood-regulating neurotransmitter. The brain can’t store tryptophan, so we need to get a regular supply from protein in our diets. Tryptophan is found in eggs, nuts, spinach, meat, fish, and poultry.

Curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties. It is found in the spice turmeric and seems to protect the brain against Alzheimer’s and possibly Parkinson’s disease. Turmeric has been used in Asian herbal remedies for centuries to treat inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. Curcumin is also a powerful anti-oxidant. Curry and sine mustards contain, and turmeric can be added to many foods. My wife uses it and it is delicious.

B vitamins, folate, or folic acid is needed to keep the enzymes related to energy metabolism humming alone. If a woman is deficient, additional folate may improve memory and ease depression. Studies indicate it may also help protect the brain from dementia. It is found in fatty fish, mushrooms, fortified products, milk, soy milk, cereal grains, orange juice, spinach, and yeast.

Shortly after reading the Washington Post article I received the January 7th Scientific American article, “Get the New Skinny on Dietary Fat.” It included the following quote from David Perlmutter, the author of Grain Brain. “The brain thrives on a fat-rich, low carbohydrate diet, which is unfortunately relatively uncommon in human populations today.” Mayo Clinic researchers showed that individuals favoring carbohydrates in their diets had a remarkable 89 percent increased risk for developing dementia as contrasted to those whose diets contained the most fat. Having the highest levels of fat consumption was actually found to be associated with an incredible 44 percent reduction in the risk for developing dementia.”

The article goes on to state that certain types of fats are more beneficial than others. “Good” fats include monounsaturated fats, found abundantly in olive oil, peanut oil, hazelnuts, avocados, pumpkin seads, and polyunsturated fats (omega 3 and omega 6), which are found in flaxseed oil, chia seeds, marine algae oil and walnuts.

Olivia Okereke of Brigham & Women’s Hospital tested how different types of fats affect cognition and memory in women. Over the course of four years she found that women who consumed high amounts of monounsaturated fats had better overall cognitive function and memory. Similar findings resulted from a study by researchers in Laval University in Quebec. They found that diets high in monounsaturated fats increased the production and release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is critical for learning and memory. The loss of acetylcholine production in the brain has been associated with Alzheimer’s.

Although canola oil, which is high in monounsaturated fats in its natural form, is often hydrogenated so that it can stay fresh longer in processed foods. Partially hydrogenated foods, also known as Trans fats, were shown to be detrimental to memory in a University of California at San Diego study. According to Beatrice Golomb, “Trans fats increase the shelf life of the food, but reduce the shelf life of the person.”

The article concludes by noting that “a well-rounded diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables may still may be the best way to stay healthy. But it’s good to know that a little fat here and there won’t kill you. In fact, it might well help you live a healthier, more productive life.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cognition Enhancing Drugs

June 10, 2014

Cognition Enhancing Drugs is the title of a chapter in Nurturing the oder Brain and Mind By Greenwood and Parasuaman.  They note that “there is little doubt that estrogen protects both the brain and cognitive functioning not only in younger female animals and in women undergoing surgical menopause, but also in middle-aged women around the time of natural menopause.  Unfortunately subsequent research revealed  the health risks of initiating estrogen and progesterone use in women many years after menopause.  However, the situation is confusing as  additional research has been conflicting and the situation remains unresolved.    Greenwood and Parasuraman conclude, “We should await results from newer better-designed studies before drawing conclusions about the benefits and costs of estrogen in women.”

Greenwood and Parasuraman note that the effects of other cognitive-enhancing drugs on older people have been little studied.  Perhaps this is because research has been targeted at  developing drugs that either cure of prevent Alzheimer’s.   Drugs that have been developed only slow the progression of the disease.  To my way of thinking this is only prolonging the agony.  Moreover, there is reason to believe that a drug that cures or prevents Alzheimer’s might never be developed (See the healthy memory blog post, “The Myth of Alzheimer’s”).

Greenwood and Parasuraman find it strange that the benefits of  cholinergic agonists for benefits in young people, that cholinesterase inhibitors have been so little studied in older people.  Again, in my view, this is due to the preoccupation with finding a cure or a preventive vaccine.  Perhaps as a result of their review some attention will be turned to this approach.
Caffeine is beneficial, but with this exception there is no current compelling evidence that pharmacological agents are useful for ameliorating cognitive aging.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Hunger, Caffeine, Cognition

March 11, 2013

How are these three words related? All three are related to the word adenosine. Adenosine is a molecule that is produced by the brain’s metabolism, during cognitive activity, and when we are hungry. The drug caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine. When I am hungry, I find thinking difficult. This would explain why. In both cases, I am feeling the effects of adenosine. Caffeine assists me in putting off eating. When I have been doing a great deal of cognitive effort, I am feeling the effects of adenosine. Caffeine is a drug that restores mental energy by blocking the effects of adenosine.

There are other ways of refreshing our brains. Exercise, even brief amounts of exercise, can be restorative. Meditation is another route to refreshing our brains as is taking a nap. When going the drug route, however, caffeine is quite effective.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.