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I am excited”: Making Stress Work for You, Instead of Against You

Image: The Yerkes-Dod­son Law (YDL)

How much stress is good for you?

In 1908, Robert Mearns Yerkes and John Dilling­ham Dod­son designed an exper­i­ment that would begin to tack­le the ques­tion, “How much stress is good for you?”

The researchers tracked mice to see how stress would affect their abil­i­ty to learn. Simple—yet painful, because how do you stress out mice? Read the rest of this entry »

Does Coffee Boost Brain/ Cognitive Functions Over Time?

A fewA_small_cup_of_coffee eter­nal ques­tions:
— Is caf­feine good for the brain?
— Does it boost cog­ni­tive func­tions?
— Does it pro­tect against demen­tia?

There is lit­tle doubt that drink­ing that morn­ing cup of cof­fee will like­ly increase alert­ness, but the main ques­tions that research is try­ing to answer go beyond that. Basi­cal­ly: is there a sus­tained, life­time, ben­e­fit or harm from drink­ing cof­fee reg­u­lar­ly?

The answer, so far, con­tains good news and bad news. The good news for cof­fee drinkers is that most of the long-term results are direc­tion­al­ly more pos­i­tive than neg­a­tive, so no clear harm seems to occur. The bad news is that it is not clear so far whether caf­feine has ben­e­fi­cial effects on gen­er­al brain func­tions, either short-term or long-term (aged-relat­ed decline or risks of demen­tia).

It is impor­tant to note that many of the stud­ies show­ing an effect of cof­fee con­sump­tion on brain func­tions or risks of demen­tia report a cor­re­la­tion or asso­ci­a­tion (they are not ran­dom­ized clin­i­cal tri­als). As you know, cor­re­la­tion doesn’t prove cau­sa­tion: cof­fee drinkers may seem to do well in a num­ber in these long-term stud­ies, but there may be oth­er rea­sons why cof­fee drinkers do bet­ter.

Q: How does caf­feine affect my brain?
A: Caf­feine is a stim­u­lant.

It belongs to a chem­i­cal group called xan­thine. Adeno­sine is a nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring xan­thine in the brain that slows down the activ­i­ty of brain cells (neu­rons). To a neu­ron, caf­feine looks like adeno­sine. It is there­fore used by some neu­rons in place of adeno­sine. The result is that these neu­rons speed up instead of slow­ing down.

This increased neu­ronal activ­i­ty trig­gers the release of the adren­a­line hor­mone, which will affect your body Read the rest of this entry »

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