According to researchers at the University of Basel, drinking caffeine can reduce gray matter volume in the brain. However, by simply cutting out caffeine for just 10-days you can help regenerate gray matter. (1)
Caffeine And Gray Matter
While many of us feel we can’t survive without our daily jolt of caffeine, studies show it could be affecting our brains. This psychoactive substance is the most consumed in the world, probably because it has a very real effect on our alertness. However, it could be that very alertness we crave that is tied to the reduction of gray matter. (1)
Because caffeine helps stimulate feeling more awake, it also interferes with sleep, especially when you have it later in the day. This lack of sleep affects gray matter. These effects are what the team led by Dr. Carolin Reichert and Professor Christian Cajochen wanted to study. (1)
Why Is Gray Matter Important?
We have both gray matter and white matter in our central nervous system. Gray matter consists mainly of the cell bodies of nerve cells, while white matter creates our neural pathways, the extensions of our nerve cells. (1,2)
Gray matter contributes to human function and is the cortex of the brain. The gray matter works with white matter and has neurons allowing us to process information and release new information. However, it is the gray matter that allows us to control important functions including memory, emotions, and movement. (2)
Caffeine And Gray Matter Study
Researchers studied 20 young coffee drinkers who were given tablets to take over two 10-day periods. In the first period, they had placebo tablets without active ingredients and in the other period, they were given caffeine tablets. They were asked not to consume any other form of caffeine during both periods. At the end of each 10-day period, the researchers looked at gray matter volume in brain scans of the subjects and studied sleep quality based on recordings of electrical activity of the brain (EEG). (1)
Caffeine And Sleep
They found depth of sleep was the same in both periods, yet there was a notable difference in the gray matter. After 10-days of caffeine abstinence, they found an increase in gray matter compared to the time period where subjects took the caffeine capsules. (1)
Research showed that although caffeine did reduce gray matter volume, it took only 10 caffeine-free days to regenerate gray matter in the participants’ brains. Researchers were most intrigued by the area of the right medial temporal lobe where the hippocampus is located, the area critical for memory. (1)
Consumption Of Caffeine And Gray Matter
“Our results do not necessarily mean that caffeine consumption has a negative impact on the brain,” says Reichert. “But daily caffeine consumption evidently affects our cognitive hardware, which in itself should give rise to further studies.” (1)
What this means for coffee drinkers has yet to be seen. “The changes in brain morphology seem to be temporary, but systematic comparisons between coffee drinkers and those who usually consume little or no caffeine have so far been lacking,” says Reichert.