Caffeine Makes No Difference

Photo: Coffee beans

Many people start their day
with coffee; © SXC

According to reports from consumers of coffee and other caffeinated products, caffeine withdrawal is often characterised by a headache, fatigue, feeling less alert, less energetic and experiencing difficulty concentrating. Researchers sought to investigate the biological mechanisms behind that. They looked at brain electrical activity and blood flow to examine what is taking place physiologically during caffeine abstinence.

The group examined caffeine's effects in a double-blind study, which involved the administration of caffeine and placebo capsules. Each participant's response to the caffeine or placebo was measured using three different measures - brain electrical activity via electroencephalogram (EEG); blood flow velocity in the brain via ultrasound; and participants' self-reports of subjective effects via questionnaires.

The team demonstrated that stopping daily caffeine consumption produces changes in cerebral blood flow velocity and quantitative EEG that are likely related to the classic caffeine withdrawal symptoms of headache, drowsiness and decreased alertness. More specifically, acute caffeine abstinence increased brain blood flow, an effect that may account for commonly reported withdrawal headaches. Acute caffeine abstinence also produced changes in EEG (increased theta rhythm) that has previously been linked to the common withdrawal symptom of fatigue. Consistent with this, volunteers reported increases in measures of "tired," "fatigue," "sluggish" and "weary."

The study produced another finding: "This design also permitted comparison of chronic caffeine maintenance with chronic placebo maintenance, which provides information about the extent to which there are net beneficial effects of daily caffeine administration," said Stacey Sigmon, first author on the study.

"In contrast to what most of us coffee lovers would think, our study showed no difference between when the participant was maintained on chronic placebo and when the participant was stabilised on chronic caffeine administration. What this means is that consuming caffeine regularly does not appear to produce any net beneficial effects, based on the measures we examined."

MEDICA.de; Source: University of Vermont