Daily Caffeine Consumption – From Energy Drinks, Coffee, or Cola – Changes Brain Structure


Energy drink, Coffee, or cola: caffeine is the world’s common extensively consumed psychoactive substance. Scientists from the University of Basel have now confirmed in research that daily caffeine intake can alter the gray matter of the brain. Though, the effect seems to be temporary.

No question – caffeine helps most of us to respond more quickly. However, it can upset our sleep if consumed in the evening. Sleep deprivation can alter the gray matter of the brain, as earlier researches have revealed. So can daily caffeine consumption influence brain structure due to inadequate sleep? A study group led by Professor Christian Cajochen and Dr. Carolin Reichert of UPK (the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel) and the University of Basel examined this topic in research.

The outcome was shocking: the caffeine consumed as part of the research did not result in inadequate sleep. Yet, scientists observed variations in the gray matter, as they describe in the journal Cerebral Cortex. Gray matter refers to the portion of the central nervous system composed of the cell bodies of nerve cells, while white matter mainly constitutes the neural pathways, the long branches of the nerve cells.

A team of 20 young healthy people, all of them always take coffee daily, took part in the research. They were provided tablets to take over two 10-day periods and were asked not to take any other caffeine during this time. During one research session, they took tablets with caffeine; in the other, tablets with no effective element (placebo). At the end of each 10 days, the scientist measured the amount of the subjects’ gray matter using brain scans. They also examined the participants’ sleep quality in the sleep laboratory by recording the electrical activity of the brain (EEG).

Caffeine Influence Gray Matter, but Sleep unaffected

Data comparison showed that the participants’ intensity of sleep was the same, despite they had consumed the placebo capsules or the caffeine. But they noticed a vital contrast in the gray matter, depending on whether the individual had taken caffeine or the placebo. After 10 days of placebo – i.e. “caffeine abstinence” – the amount of gray matter was more than following the same period with caffeine capsules.

A regular dose of caffeine is part of normal life for many people.
A regular dose of caffeine is part of normal life for many people. Yet, daily caffeine consumption changes brain structures.

The difference was noticeable in the right medial temporal lobe, including the hippocampus, a section of the brain that is essential to memory consolidation. “Our results do not indicate that caffeine consumption has a negative influence on the brain,” emphasizes Reichert. “But regular caffeine consumption influences our cognitive hardware, which in itself should give rise to further studies.” She adds that in the past, the health effects of caffeine have been studied primarily in patients, but there is also a need for research on healthy subjects.

Although caffeine seems to lessen the amount of gray matter, after just 10 days of coffee abstinence it had significantly regenerated in the test subjects. “The variations in brain morphology appear to be temporary, but precise comparisons between coffee drinkers and those who normally consume little or no caffeine have so far been lacking,” says Reichert.

Journal Reference

“Daily Caffeine Intake Induces Concentration-Dependent Medial Temporal Plasticity in Humans: A Multimodal Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trial” by Janine Weibel, Francesco Santini, Hans-Peter Landolt, Yu-Shiuan Lin, Christian Cajochen, Martin Meyer, Samuel M Meier-Menches, Christopher Gerner, Julia Brunmair, Stefan Borgwardt, and Carolin Reichert, 15 February 2021, Cerebral Cortex.

DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhab005


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.