New research: Coffee improves memory, alcohol not so much

Caffeine improves memory…

Caffeine seems to be able to help improve memory.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University say that 200 milligrams of caffeine administered after test subjects studied a series of images, seemed to reduce forgetting, at least temporarily.

The subjects’ memories were tested 24 hours after they initially studied the images and then received the caffeine tablets (or a placebo).

Coffee via Shutterstock

Coffee via Shutterstock

The “average” 8 oz. cup of coffee has anywhere from about 80 mg to 170 mg of caffeine; tea has about 30-80 mg of caffeine per 8 oz cup depending on the blend.

It had previously been thought that caffeine may have had only a limited role in improving memory, or perhaps no role at all.

…While alcohol disrupts memory

It’s been known for decades that alcohol may nave a negative effect on memory. Chronic alcoholics, for example, often have problems with recalling information.

It appears now that binge drinking (periods of abstinence or near abstinence, followed by periods of heavy alcohol consumption) may be even more harmful to memory than drinking on a daily basis.

This had previously been shown to be true in teenagers, but more recent research shows that it is equally true in adults.

Alcohol itself can cause damage or death to neurons. Coupled with a decrease in thiamine (vitamin B1) intake, that may be seen in chronic alcoholics (and some others), Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS or “wet brain”) may develop.

WKS can cause decreased ability to focus, memory loss, balance problems and other symptoms — and even lead to death.

If you’re going to drink alcohol, remember to drink responsibly. The concern isn’t simply that you might drink and drive.  When abused, alcohol can physically harm your body.


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Mark Thoma, MD, is a physician who did his residency in internal medicine. Mark has a long history of social activism, and was an early technogeek, and science junkie, after evolving through his nerd phase. Favorite quote: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science... is not 'Eureka!' (I found it!) but 'That's funny.'” - Isaac Asimov

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