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What Coffee Does to Your Brain

Dietitians share the cognitive effects-both good and bad-of drinking coffee on a regular basis.

The health benefits of coffee are a hotly debated topic these days. Some people talk about it being perfectly healthy, while others say there are health consequences to look out for.

But what is the truth about these conversations? And when it comes to your brain and cognition specifically, how does coffee impact your health in these areas?

We talked to a couple of expert dietitians to learn more about what coffee does to your brain. Read on, and for more healthy coffee tips, check out This Is The Best Coffee In The World, Says Science.

It might disrupt your sleep

If you drink coffee at any point in the day, you run the risk of losing some sleep later that evening. Our dietitian explains why this is connected to coffee's effect on the brain.

"One of the primary ways coffee impacts the brain is its interaction with the neurotransmitter, adenosine," says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD at Balance One Supplements. "This neurotransmitter plays a role in sleep promotion as it builds up throughout the day. However, it is similar in molecular structure to caffeine, which means it competes with caffeine for receptor sites in the brain. Caffeine wins out and causes an inhibitory effect of adenosine."

According to Best, "this is a large reason why many people cannot sleep or get poor sleep when they drink coffee past a particular time of day."

Coffee may improve cognitive function

black coffee on wooden table

Aside from potentially disrupting your sleep, coffee has actually been found to have a positive impact on your brain health and cognition.

"A beneficial effect of coffee on the brain is its ability to improve brain and cognitive function. Caffeine promotes the release of beneficial neurotransmitters including dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline," says Best, "and this results in improved reaction time, mood, comprehension, and attention span."

While caffeine has definitely been proven to have positive cognitive effects, more research is currently being done on the possibility that some of these cognitive benefits may also come from decaffeinated coffee, meaning that antioxidants in this beverage may play a large role as well.

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Its antioxidants can benefit your brain health

Coffee is naturally full of powerful antioxidants known to help with your brain health. "The antioxidants and more than one hundred biologically active substances in coffee prevent damage to vessels and arteries and in turn, may help with blood perfusion (healthy force with which blood is passed throughout the body), meaning healthy blood flow to the brain," says Morgyn Clair, MS, RDN, author at Fit Healthy Momma.

Not only that, but Clair adds that coffee may be helpful in preventative ways as well. "The antioxidants in coffee also fight free radicals (i.e. damage) to your body's cells, possibly providing a protective effect against brain disease."

For the most part, coffee can play a positive role in the health of your brain. However, these benefits will be impacted by how you drink your coffee, so take into consideration how much cream and added sugar you're using. If you have any doubts about the way it's impacting your brain, talk to your doctor to learn more.

Samantha Boesch
Samantha was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and now works as a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Read more about Samantha