Swiss study shows caffeine can shrink your brain

Basel, Switzerland - A Swiss study shows that caffeine reduces the amount of gray matter in the brain, especially around the memory center. But surprisingly, giving up caffeine gave the brain a chance to "regrow" the missing matter.

More studies are needed, but the initial evidence suggests that caffeine directly impacts brain structure (stock image).
More studies are needed, but the initial evidence suggests that caffeine directly impacts brain structure (stock image).  © 123RF/ Somsak Sudthangtum

Research conducted at the University of Basel in conjunction with the University's Psychiatric Hospital has produced results that might make coffee-drinkers take notice.

Summing up the findings, SciTechDaily reported that test subjects who normally drank coffee every day were told to stop and take tablets every day - some caffeinated, and some placebo. During the 10-day period, they had their sleep quality measured, and had their brains scanned.

Participants in the study might have expected to suffer from poor sleep from taking the provided caffeine tablets, but sleep disturbances didn't happen. The hidden consequences, however, were much more significant than expected.

Researchers saw that those who had been taking the caffeinated pills had measurably less gray matter visible on their brain scans than those who had been taking placebo pills. Gray matter refers to the bodies of nerve cells, as opposed to white matter, which actually makes up the neural pathways.

The most significant changes were observed in the right medial temporal lobe, which is where the hippocampus lies. The hippocampus is the brain's hub for storing memories. The researchers couldn't say for certain if memory was impacted but based on the changes they reported in the journal Cerebral Cortex, they concluded that more studies were definitely necessary to compare the brain structures of coffee drinkers and those who consume little to no caffeine.

What was perhaps most fascinating was that the reduction in gray matter didn't seem to be permanent if the drinkers stopped taking caffeine. Ten days of staying away from coffee was enough time for the missing gray matter to regenerate.

Cover photo: collage: 123RF/ Somsak Sudthangtum & Puwadol Jaturawutthichai

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