Hands up who loves the alertness boost coffee gives you almost as much as much as the taste?
Coffee is the second most popular beverage in the world (good old H2O takes the crown) and the Centre for Economics and Business Research found that the UK alone drinks around 95 million cups of coffee a day.
While we’ve long credited its caffeine content, new research suggests otherwise, with a study showing that the boost people get from drinking a cup of coffee cannot be replicated by caffeine alone.
In a new study, a team from the University of Minho in Portugal examined whether it was solely caffeine which gave coffee its wakefulness effect, or whether other factors influenced it.
Their results, published in the journal <Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience> showed that caffeine, when isolated, only partially reproduced the effects of drinking a cup of coffee.
Researchers split participants into two groups – one drank a drink containing caffeine and one drank a standardised cup of coffee. MRI scans were conducted before and after, in which participants were instructed to ‘let their minds wander’.
They found that drinking coffee increased connectivity in the brain’s more advanced nerve network. This controls vision, and parts involved in memory, cognitive control and goal-directed behaviour. These effects were not found in people just drinking the non-coffee caffeine drink.
This isn’t the first study to highlight the benefits of coffee this year, as previous studies showed that high blood caffeine levels may cut people’s risk of diabetes.
A study last year by Queen Mary University of London and the Budapest Semmelweis University highlighted that having up to three cups of coffee a day can protect the heart and reduce the overall mortality rate and the risk of stroke.
Texas A&M University researchers also found that higher coffee consumption has correlation to decreased rates of neurological and metabolic diseases, including Parkinson’s disease.
The new findings suggest that while caffeinated drinks share some of the positive effects of coffee, there are still some special benefits to be wrought by coffee drinking.
These may include the particular smell and taste of your oat milk flat white or long black – or the positive psychological expectation associated with consuming that drink.
Women’s Health UK has previously reported on the mechanics of how coffee affects your physiology and found that around four and a half cups of instant coffee is the maximum you can have before energy levels start to be drained because too many receptors are being blocked.
The NHS also recommends to consume caffeine – coffee included – in moderation, and those who struggle with anxiety are generally advised to keep their intake low.
Pregnant women are advised to consume no more than 200mg of caffeine daily – equivalent to two mugs of tea, two cups of instant coffee, or one cup of filter coffee. That’s because regularly consuming more than this is associated with a risk of pregnancy complications.