Adults have always depended on the invigorating effects of coffee especially in the morning, but according to a new study, this popular caffeinated beverage can also help relax the brain and prevent memory loss and depression in people.
Rodrigo Cunha, a neuropharmacology professor at the University of Coimbra, led an international team of researchers from Portugal, Brazil and the United States in finding out how caffeine could lessen the adverse effects of stress on the brain.
The researchers conducted an experiment on laboratory mice wherein they combined the animals' drinking water with caffeine. They then place the some of the mice under stress to see how they would react.
Cunha and his team found that the caffeine they gave the mice helped keep the animals calm throughout the experiment.
"If the animal is not stressed there isn't a very evident change in physiological parameters or behavior," Cunha said.
"However, if you introduce changes to the lifestyle of the animals, what we see is they cope much better."
The researchers discovered that the caffeine allowed the mice to block off the effects of a stress-related chemical in their bodies. It prevented the animals from suffering typical health issues associated with stress including memory loss.
Cunha explained that while caffeine does not make the body perform better, the substance keeps it from working in the wrong way. He said that it serves more to prevent deterioration instead of improving a particular function in the body.
The findings of the study also showed that caffeine could potentially reduce the effects of depression in people. The researchers, however, noted that this result is not clear on what exactly cheers up individuals, whether it is the caffeine itself or the act of buying it.
"This study was the first to establish a causal link," Cunha pointed out. "It is indeed caffeine. Because mice didn't go to the coffee shop, mice didn't spend more time with each other."
"All those factors were controlled. The only variable was the intake of caffeine."
The researchers cautioned that the human brain functions differently from that of a mouse. They recommend that further studies are needed to explore the effects of caffeine on a person's brain.
Cunha added that their research can help drug researchers to develop medicines that could interrupt mood dysfunction.
The findings of the international study are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Photo: Mekonomen Autoteknik - ES Motor | Flickr