Health & Lifestyle

Feel perkier after your morning coffee? Scientists say it might just be a PLACEBO

Feel perkier after your morning coffee? Scientists say it might just be a PLACEBO

For many people, the day doesn’t start until they’ve had a cup of coffee.

It’s the drink most turn to in order to wake themselves up, feel more alert and improve their efficiency.

But that essential morning coffee may act as a placebo, according to a study.

Portuguese scientists studied coffee-drinkers to understand whether that wakefulness effect is dependent on the properties of caffeine, or whether it’s about the experience of drinking coffee.

They recruited people who drank a minimum of one cup of coffee a day and did two brief MRI scans – one before and one after either drinking coffee or drinking hot water with the same amount of caffeine in it.

For many people, the day doesn't start until they've had a cup of coffee. It's the drink most turn to in order to wake themselves up, feel more alert and improve their efficiency. But that essential morning coffee may act as a placebo, according to a study

For many people, the day doesn’t start until they’ve had a cup of coffee. It’s the drink most turn to in order to wake themselves up, feel more alert and improve their efficiency. But that essential morning coffee may act as a placebo, according to a study

Analysis of the brain scans revealed the connectivity of the default mode network – involved in introspection and self-reflection processes – decreased after both drinking coffee and taking caffeine.

This suggests both made people more prepared to move from ‘rest’ to ‘work’ mode on tasks.

But drinking coffee also increased the connectivity in the higher visual network and the right executive control network – parts of the brain which are involved in working memory, cognitive control and goal-directed behaviour.

This didn’t happen when participants drank the hot water with caffeine in it.

In other words, the researchers said, if you want to feel not just alert but ready to go, caffeine alone won’t do – you need to experience that cup of coffee.

First author Dr Maria Picó-Pérez, from Jaume I University, said: ‘In simple words, the subjects were more ready for action and alert to external stimuli after having coffee.

‘Taking into account that some of the effects that we found were reproduced by caffeine, we could expect other caffeinated drinks to share some of the effects.

‘However, others were specific for coffee drinking, driven by factors such as the particular smell and taste of the drink, or the psychological expectation associated with consuming that drink.’

The authors pointed out that it is possible that the experience of drinking coffee without caffeine could also cause these benefits – but that their study could not confirm this.

The findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience.

Separate research, published earlier this year, found that on days people drink coffee they sleep worse but walk further.

When people were able to drink as much coffee as they wanted they took about 1,000 more daily steps, according to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

On days when the same people had enforced abstinence, however, they slept around 30 minutes longer.

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