June 02, 2010
Illusory Benefits Of Regular Coffee Use

German and British researchers find that ,edium to heavy coffee drinkers are no more alert than non-coffee drinkers. Basically, without coffee the regular drinkers are less alert than non-drinkers. The coffee just boosts alertness up to a level that non-drinkers already function at.

Speaking as someone who does not drink coffee: I've been waiting to see this result published for years. I have been skeptical that a body can have its alertness artificially boosted above natural alertness levels for sustained levels of time. There's got to be a cost to brain boosts. Either a drug boosts the brain and causes damage or the body adjusts to the drug and the brain isn't boosted.

I can see exceptions where drugs that calm the brain could boost performance in a sustained way. But I do not expect stimulant drugs to provide a sustained boost.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 June 02 11:44 PM  Brain Performance

Brett Bellmore said at June 3, 2010 3:13 AM:

Caffeine, by itself, causes a release of neurotransmitters, but doesn't speed their replacement. Anybody who has relied on caffeine to stay awake for an extended period has experienced that 'wall' where you've exhausted your reserves, and suddenly can only think in short spurts, as the neurotransmitters become available for it.

There are, however, products which combine caffeine with neurotransmitter precursors, with the aim of avoiding the 'wall'. I wonder how they'd stack up in a test like this?

Lono said at June 3, 2010 8:34 AM:


I believe you are right - that would give an extended benefit - but production time of building neurotransmitters then becomes the new wall.

(I have read individuals seriously involved in Nootropics and other brain performance doping have to formulate very carefully to take into account this restoration period)


Your intuition was indeed correct and I think most coffee drinlers don't kid themselves about enhanced perfomance - especially in the morning - however - like smokers - we do get the dopamine dump for our first "hit" of the day - which helps us to not go postal.

I have found - when freed from my addiction to caffine - I am a bit more moody from day to day - without that little self-regulating crutch.

Increasing the intensity and length of my workout regimen can offset that - however that also becomes it's own addiction.

And since caffine is still somewhat protective against senility - I say - for one of the last of my survivng vices - it's a relatively benign transgression.

Chris T said at June 3, 2010 9:19 AM:

For someone with ADHD(PI) caffeine is still a lifesaver. I'm a light coffee drinker though.

random said at June 3, 2010 1:31 PM:

Perhaps I'm kidding myself, but I feel like an hour or two of coffee fueled intensity is far more productive than a full day of muddling through without caffeine.

Kudzu Bob said at June 3, 2010 8:46 PM:

Each morning upon waking I use a drink mix that contains caffeine, plus phenylalanine, taurine, and various other nutrient co-factors. I also take it in the evening when I get home from my day job, so that I can work on various freelance writing assignments. The taste isn't all that terrific, but in my strictly non-scientific opinion it gives me a much greater lift that coffee alone.

Oddly, another writer buddy of mine, a cigarette smoker and in his younger days an occasional user of cocaine, finds this formula overstimulating, and refuses to touch the stuff.

bane said at June 4, 2010 4:10 AM:

Any thoughts on how this squeares with this


which basically says that the coffee counteracts biological "go to sleep" hormone reactions occurring later in the waking period, it doesn't "wake you up" first thing. It's possible that testing morning coffee drinkers you've got the withdrawl effects without the later day benefits, so that you get this "no benefit at all from caffeine" result.

Personally, only on days when I'm working, I drink a cup of cofeee around about 2pm. I can't tell if actually does help counteract the mid-afternoon dip or if it's a placebo though.

bane said at June 4, 2010 4:19 AM:

I thought the link was to a recent British experiment that tested coffee drinkers either with or without their morning coffee and found that without coffee they were below non-coffee drinkers whilst with their coffee they were about level, and attributed it to caffeine withdrawl in the time since their last coffee the previous day. Looks like the German study was of all day usage, so the above comment doesn't really apply to it.

dick fuel said at June 4, 2010 8:43 AM:





Lono said at June 4, 2010 8:55 AM:


Toxic epidermal necrolysis is a possible (if rare) side effect!


No Thanks!!

bbartlog said at June 4, 2010 11:34 AM:

I drink quite a lot of coffee and can agree with this assessment. Coffee becomes necessary to function on a normal level. There are still some minor dips and above-average periods (groggy before the first cup of coffee, above normal just after, then trending down etc.) but no net alertness benefit.
However, claiming 'Either a drug boosts the brain and causes damage', etc., seems almost reflexively puritanical. When you consider that calorie efficiency was one of the great forces shaping human evolution, and that the brain uses a big chunk of human calories, it seems entirely possible that there are energy-saving mechanisms built in to the brain that we could subvert, improving performance without causing damage. In fact the added energy consumption would probably be considered a benefit in today's environment.

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