Coffee Doesn’t Make You More Alert

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Coffee fiends may want to scale back on the caffeine. A new study published by the Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology shows that your habitual cup of morning Joe isn’t exactly helping you wake up. You just think it is.

“With frequent consumption, substantial tolerance develops to the anxiogenic effect of caffeine,” the study, published in its entirety online, says. Frequent coffee drinkers may feel more alert after their first cup, but it’s only because their caffeine withdrawal symptoms are being alleviated.

The study, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council in the U.K., asked 379 individuals to abstain from coffee for 16 hours. Participants were then given either a caffeine or placebo pill and asked to rate their level of alertness. They also played computer games to quantitatively establish memory, attentiveness and vigilance levels. Half of the study’s participants were heavy to medium caffeine drinkers; half were low to non-caffeine users.

Researchers found that while the heavy to medium caffeine drinkers who received caffeine pills did experience increased alertness, their levels were no higher than non-caffeine users who took the placebo.

Heavy caffeine addicts who received placebo pills experienced the lowest levels of alertness, coupled with distinct withdrawal symptoms. The Week reports that four bigtime coffee drinkers actually had to drop out of the study because their headaches were so severe.This led researchers to conclude that the morning high associated with drinking coffee comes more from the body’s established dependency on caffeine (which drinkers wouldn’t have if they started their morning with orange juice.)

The one bright spot for frequent coffee drinkers is that, according to the study, coffee causes higher levels of anxiety for casual coffee drinkers, but heavy users were immune to the increase.

"Our study shows that we don't gain an advantage from consuming caffeine,” Peter Rogers of Bristol University, who led the study, told Science Daily. “Although we feel alerted by it, this is caffeine just bringing us back to normal. On the other hand, while caffeine can increase anxiety, tolerance means that for most caffeine consumers this effect is negligible."

In other words, the only thing to be gained from your caffeine addiction is … caffeine addiction.  

How much money, exactly, are your bad habits costing you? Check out this MainStreet article to learn the real cost of your vice.

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