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Study finds caffeine may shrink brain grey matter, but don’t panic

The latest caffeine study reports that it can cause noticeable, but temporary, changes in the volume of gray matter in the brain – the ramifications of which are currently unclear. The study involved giving participants caffeine for 10 days, as well as a placebo for 10 days, and monitoring changes in their brain structure.

The new research comes from the University of Basel, revealing that regular daily consumption of caffeine can cause changes in the gray matter of the brain, the part that mainly contains the bodies of nerve cells – not to be confused with the white matter of the brain, which is mainly neural pathways.

This is not the first study to link caffeine to changes in brain structure, but previous research has left a mystery behind: has the brain structure been altered due to the sleep deprivation caused by caffeine consumption? To answer that question, the study commissioned 20 young, healthy participants who had a regular coffee habit to take caffeine pills for 10 days.

After the 10-day period, participants underwent brain scans to assess the volume of gray matter in the brain. After that, participants were instructed to avoid caffeine and take a placebo pill for another 10 days. Brain scans were performed again after that time.

After analyzing the data, the researchers found that caffeine consumption did not cause sleep disturbances compared to the caffeine-free period. However, brain scans still revealed “a significant difference in gray matter”, with days without caffeine resulting in greater volume compared to days with caffeine.

The biggest change in gray matter volume was seen in the temporal lobe of the right media, according to the study, and the change in brain structure appears to be temporary. The researchers note that this change does not necessarily mean that caffeine is something to avoid, with team leader Dr. Carolin Reichert explaining:

Our results do not necessarily mean that caffeine consumption has a negative impact on the brain. But daily caffeine consumption evidently affects our cognitive hardware, which in itself should give rise to further studies.

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