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Surprising Effects Coffee Has on Your Brain, New Study Says

Convinced coffee makes your brain work? A new MRI study reveals even more specific benefits.

If you're a coffee drinker, you probably agree that nothing delivers your morning wake-up call better than a hot cup of java. Now, an exciting new study has monitored brain activity to discover that coffee affects the brain's connectivity in ways that have never been this closely examined before.

Neuro-radiologist Nuno Sousa, president of Portugal's University of Minho School of Medicine, led the study, which was sponsored by the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee and just published in Molecular Psychiatry. Sousa and his research team used functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, to monitor the brain's blood flow and neuron activation among a group of coffee drinkers compared to a group of non-coffee drinkers in three states: resting, performing a task, and just after drinking a cup of coffee.

"This is the first time that the effect that drinking coffee regularly has on our brain network [has been] studied with this level of detail," Sousa writes in the study.

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As a result, Sousa and his team discovered that there is, indeed, a connection between drinking coffee and "a more efficient and beneficial pattern of connections with respect to motor control and alertness." In other words, if you feel more alert and "with it" once you've had your morning coffee, this study has confirmed that the beverage does have those effects on your brain.

What's more, the researchers also found dynamic activity in several areas of the brain that indicate coffee can increase the ability to learn and focus, as well as process and store memories.

That said, another link the researchers found—that's perhaps less surprising—is what past studies have also shown: Some of the study participants' brains exhibited a higher degree of stress after drinking coffee.

The study didn't seem to investigate whether it's coffee, or simply caffeine, that delivered these benefits… but for coffee loyalists, does that even matter? If you've got to have that morning jolt, be sure to read The Worst Kinds of Coffee for Your Heart Health, Science Says.

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Krissy Gasbarre
Krissy is a senior news editor at Eat This, Not That!, managing morning and weekend news related to nutrition, wellness, restaurants and groceries (with a focus on beverages), and more. Read more about Krissy
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