Caffeine Changes Brain Structure: Coffee, Cola & Co

According to a recent study, caffeine, cola, or energy drinks could also affect the brain. Regular caffeine consumption improves the structure of the brain, which is a brief appearance.

“Caffeine is the widely consumed psychoactive substance global”, and the investigation by the research team headed by Dr Carolin Reichert with Prof. Dr Christian Cajochen.

It shows “that regular caffeine intake changes the grey matter of the brain,” said the University of Basel regarding the study conclusions. The effect seems brief. The study was published in the expert magazine “Cerebral Cortex”.

Analyzed effects on sleep and brain
Several people find it challenging to do without coffee in the daylight, and there is a purpose: The caffeine it includes helps them suggest more alert. All beverages comprising coffee produce a comparable effect, only to a different amount. The researchers suspected that consuming drinks containing caffeine could also impair sleep, and since sleep deprivation is known to affect the grey matter of the brain, a change in brain structures is possible.

To clarify the question, the research partners led by Dr Carolin Reichert with Prof. Dr Christian Cajochen from the University of Basel along with the University Psychiatric Clinics Basel investigated the effects of caffeine consumption on rest and the brain in 20 young, healthful people. The associates also usually drank coffee in their everyday lives but were asked to interrupt their coffee consumption for the study period. Instead, they were given tablets to take twice for ten days – ten weeks with caffeine, ten weeks a placebo.

The participants’ sleep quality was recorded in the sleep laboratory employing brain wave measurements (EEG). At the edge of each ten days, the volume of grey matter was estimated using brain scans. Grey matter refers to parts of the central nervous system, consisting of the nerve cells’ cell bodies. In contrast, the white matter primarily consists of the conduction pathways, the nerve cells’ long processes, and the researchers.

No consequences for sleep, but the brain
“The connection of the data explained that the participants slept fairly deeply, notwithstanding whether they had taken caffeine tablets or the placebo. But there was a clear difference in grey matter, depending on whether the test subjects had received caffeine or the placebo,” reports the University of Basel. The grey matter volume was greater after ten days without caffeine (with placebo) than after the same period with the caffeine tablets.

Further studies needed
The difference is evident in the brain’s right medial temporal lobe, including the hippocampus, a brain region central to memory consolidation, the researchers explain. “Our results do not fundamentally mean that the consumption has negative effects on the brain. It is clear that everyday caffeine consumption changes our cognitive hardware, which should at least give rise to further studies,” emphasizes Dr Reichert.

Changes are only temporary.
The study also clarifies that it reduces grey matter volume, but regeneration is as extensive as possible after only ten caffeine withdrawal days. “The changes in brain morphology seem temporary. But systematic comparisons between coffee drinkers and people who usually consume little or no caffeine have so far been lacking,” summarizes Dr Reichert.