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Is coffee a placebo effect or does caffeine give you energy?

It turns out the caffeine in our coffee might not be responsible for that buzz we get from our morning latte.

Dying for a caffeine hit first thing in the morning to switch your brain into gear?

Well, according to new a new study, it might not matter if it’s decaffeinated, because that jolt of energy your coffee gives you is just a placebo.  

Researchers found it might be the act of drinking coffee that works miracles, not the caffeine itself.

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“There is a common expectation, namely among habitual coffee drinkers, that coffee increases alertness and psychomotor functioning,” researchers of the study, published in Frontiers, explain.

“For these reasons, many individuals keep drinking coffee to counteract fatigue, stay alert, increase cognitive performance, and increase work efficiency.”

To learn more, researchers recruited 47 people who consumed at least one coffee each day. Participants averaged around 30 years old, and 31 of the 47 were women.

All participants were asked to abstain from consuming caffeine for a minimum of three hours before participating in the study. At this stage, they also underwent an MRI.

Once the 47 participants consumed their coffee, they underwent another MRI 30 minutes later.

What researchers found was surprising. Coffee consumption, but not caffeine consumption, led to better visual processing, and cognitive function, like working memory, cognitive control and goal-related behaviour.

All in all, the differing effects of taking caffeine and drinking coffee may stem from the sensory experience.

In an interview with Medical News Today, Armargo Couture, a registered dietitian and nutritionist suggested the extra effects of drinking coffee may be a result of the placebo effect.

“The placebo effect might work in this case due to the fact that culturally, drinking a cup of coffee before starting your day is the social norm,” she explained.

The act of waking up and drinking coffee can be subconscious.

“After waking up, many people will routinely drink their morning cup of coffee before starting their day, which naturally becomes associated with being productive,” Couture said.

“Preparing for your day with a morning coffee is a collective experience and the social norm, which is where the coined phrase ‘don’t talk to me until I’ve had my morning coffee’ came from,” she added.

There are also other compounds at work in your brew, which often get dwarfed next to the caffeine.

“Components of coffee, such as terpenes, cafestol and kahweol, and polyphenols such as chlorogenic acids, interact with various brain receptors to increase energy, increase mood, and give us that motivated mindset,” she explained.

“The terpenes and polyphenols in coffee have been researched and shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which have been associated with a lower risk of depression as well,” Couture explained.

This new development is fascinating, but it’s worth noting researchers didn’t compare the study’s participants to non-caffeine or non-coffee drinkers. 

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