Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
Or like your brain is on the verge of shutting down?
It is the feeling that happens when you are mentally fatigued – much like a wet blanket thrown over your brain. How hard it is during those times to get anything done? Feels near impossible.
So, you have a big project to complete at work, or a test you have to study for and you need a mental pick-me-up.
What drink to you reach for?
We thought we would examine the most popular drinks that people reach for when they need a boost, and see if we could determine the effects they are having on your brain and memory.
Hopefully this information will be as enlightening to you as it was for us. Because if your brain isn’t working well, nothing else will either.
Coffee is probably one of the most used work and study aids on the planet (right after water and tea).
It is estimated that over half the population of America drinks coffee (National Coffee Association). Some would say it is so popular due to the caffeine addiction many of us (myself included) have. However, there is no question for coffee drinkers that it does have an effect on your mental functioning; both good and bad. Too little and you don’t really feel anything. Too much coffee and your brain seems to get rewired and not work well at all.
But that perfect cup of coffee sure seems to kick start your brain.
So what is it in coffee that makes it such a great mental booster?
The primary ingredient in coffee that stimulates your brain is caffeine. Studies show that caffeine (in limited amounts) will improve your short term memory and speeds up the reaction time in your brain’s frontal cortex area.
“We were able to show that caffeine modulates a higher brain function through its effects on distinct areas of the brain,” said this paper’s lead author, Florian Koppelstätter, M.D., Ph.D.
Another question you might ask – is it only the caffeine in coffee that helps, or are there other compounds that might also enhance mental functioning?
Well, there are other compounds such as chlorogenic acids, which keep adenosine in circulation in the brain longer than normal. This may augment coffee’s ability to increase concentration without increasing irritability.
What isn’t know is how long these effects last and if the enhancements are permanent. An older study shows that coffee is by far the #1 source of antioxidants in American’s diets. Antioxidants are obviously a good thing for both your mental and overall health.
Coffee may also help with Parkinsons disease mobility issues, lower depression risks in women, may lower risk of the deadliest prostate cancer, may reduce diabetes risk, and believe it or not may be the newest stress buster.
If you use coffee to stimulate your brain, the key is to use an amount which doesn’t over stimulate you.
Coffee does seem to enhance your mental performance, but it doesn’t appear to make you smarter. Unfortunately.
Your brain is incredibly sensitive to changes within your body.
Your brain is probably most sensitive to the natural water balance or hydration levels within your body. Without these proper levels it simply cannot function properly. Researchers have found that dehydration can impair short and long term memory functions within your brain.
One study from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that with just a 2% change in hydration levels in your body you can experience decreases in physical, visuomotor, psychomotor, and cognitive performance.
It is easy to see why pure water can be one of the most beneficial drinks for improving your mental functioning.
Simply put, your brain needs water.
For too many of us, the lure of cold, sweet sodas is the first go-to drink for pepping up your mental afternoons. Take your pick of the brand, many of us enjoy a soft drink and experience a perk in mental functioning.
We just learned from our look into coffee that caffeine is the primary cause for mental stimulation. Next question is, how does the sugar content within most sodas effect your thinking? And, what about all those other chemical ingredients?
Sugar, in small amounts, is necessary for our bodies to function. The problem arises from high quantities of sugar intake and the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Not only has this been associated with diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease, research seems to point out that HFCS will actually hinder your brain functioning.
This article is trying to look for drinks that can help your mental functioning, and other than the small boost from the caffeine, not much else can be said positive about soda drinks.
Drinking soda has also been shown to:
- Dramatically increase fat buildup around your liver and skeletal muscles;
- A 10 year study of ~500 adults found that those who drank at least 2 soda drinks per day have a 500% bigger waistline!;
- Two of the coloring agents used in many drinks, 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole, have been linked to cancer risk;
- Phosphoric acid found in many soda drinks has been shown to reduce life spans significantly;
- Cause environmental hazards. Artificial sweeteners are not broken down in our bodies, nor are they caught in water treatment plants and thus transfer directly to our water supplies;
- Cause major hormonal imbalances. All sorts of cans are lined with PBA’s to keep the drinks from reacting with the aluminum. Do a simple search for PBA’s effects on hormones and you will not drink from another can;
- Massive plastic pollution. Search for “great pacific garbage patch” and see for yourself.
Pretty dramatic evidence that drinking soda does nothing but hurt your health.
Visit any campus or work environment around the globe and you will find an abundant supply of energy drinks. People consumed almost 12.5 Billion dollars worth of energy drinks in America alone in 2012. And yet, the health effects of these types of drinks are dismal.
They have been known to cause side effects including seizures, diabetes, cardiac abnormalities, and mood and behavioral disorders.
Many of these drinks do not list the amount of caffeine that they contain, and they are not regulated. According to Daniel Marks, an assistant professor at the Center for the Study of Weight Regulation at Oregon Health & Science University, “Some energy drinks beverages can boost heart rate and blood pressure, and cause dehydration and restlessness.”
Another issue with energy drinks is that the ingredients vary widely between brands and many of these ingredients are chemicals that have unknown long-term health effects.
The only reason we include energy drinks on this list is to bring more awareness to the harmful effects that these may drinks cause.
Take all the negative aspects of soda drinks above and multiply them for the negative effects of energy drinks.
The bottom line is this: Energy drinks have ZERO benefits to your health.
Obviously we are biased, but for good reason.
Next to water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. And it just so happens it is also one of the most healthy drinks you can put into your body.
There are 3 main active compounds in tea that really help you, both mentally and physically:
What are they? Why are they good for mental health?
Flavonoids are powerful little antioxidants that have a host of health benefits. A Cambridge study shows flavonoids, may exert beneficial effects in the central nervous system by protecting neurons against stress induced injury, promoting synaptic plasticity, memory and cognitive function.
Theanine (L-theanine) is an amino acid that is naturally found in tea. This amino acid is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, and has been shown to potentially enhance relaxation, reduce stress (mental and physical), enhance mood, and improve cognition.
Tea does contain caffeine, but not as much as coffee. Oolong tea, for instance, only contains about 1/3 the caffeine as a cup of coffee. This means that it is the perfect daily companion during work or studying.
These are the primary constituents in tea for improving brain function, but the truly amazing thing about tea is that it has so many other health benefits as well.
Not only that, but real tea is 100% natural with no fillers or additives. This means that it can be consumed safely by the majority of people with none of the risks associated with too much coffee, soda, or energy drinks.
Another fantastic benefit of drinking tea is that it has been proven to help you lose weight.
At the risk of tooting our own horn, it goes without question that tea is the absolute best drink you can consume for your mental and overall health.
What do you think? Know of a great brain drink we missed?
What other methods do you use to perk up a sluggish brain?
Leave us a comment below and tell us what you think.