Yes, it has finally been proven that two cups of coffee a day help rats to develop the spatial part of their brain. The study was written up originally in Nature Neuroscience and reported in Science News online. The application to humans is not known, let alone any application to coffee-drinking humans. The researchers in North Carolina and Connecticut used smaller than usual “hits of caffeine” with the rats, the supposed equivalent of the amount found in two cups of coffee. Then they measured the strength of electrical responses of cells in the rats’ brains.
They found the hippocampus to be the area with the strongest response and zeroed in on that. This is the area of the human brain which deals with spatial memories. The example given was that of the cab driver, who usually shows a larger hippocampus than non-cabbies. We can theorize from this that coffee-drinking cabbies remember locations better than decaf-drinkers or non-coffee drinkers. But that’s another story, requiring yet more research. The researchers also found that the higher the caffeine dose, the greater the nerve response in this area. The neighboring areas of the brain were not affected, only the hippocampus.
Of course, these rats are lab rats, often used to run mazes, so they might have a built-in need for a larger hippocampus. Indeed, they should take up coffee. Oh, that’s right; they gave up their lives for science… If we accept it’s a fact that caffeine stimulates the part of the brain – in rats – that helps in spatial learning, there are many theories we could suggest for experimentation in humans. Besides the cabbie study, a study needs to be done on whether humans – especially Alzheimer patients - negotiate a maze better after drinking coffee. Then, we could finally answer the age-old question of whether men find their way around town better than women or are just afraid to ask for directions, by throwing coffee into the equation. Come to think of it, this may be why so many of us like to drink coffee while driving. It obviously helps us remember where we’re going. And if you don’t believe me, ask a caffeine-addicted rat.
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