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Drink a cup of coffee to help your memory.

I've come across some new research that I wish I'd known about when I was studying for medical finals - coffee or, better, caffeine will improve your brain's ability to form new memories.

A US study has shown that caffeine can sharpen your memories for at least 24 hours after it is consumed - long enough to cram for an exam the night before and sit the test the next day.

Caffeine seems to boost the way you lay down memory circuits in your brain, so that you can recall the memory more clearly later on.

Participants in the study, who didn't regularly eat or drink caffeine, received a placebo or a 200mg caffeine tablet - the same as a large cup of coffee - five minutes after studying some images.

Study leader Michael Yassa, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, said: "Almost all prior studies administered caffeine before the study session, so if there' is an enhancement, it is not clear if it is due to caffeine's effects on attention, vigilance, focus or other factors."

The next day, both groups were tested on how well they recognised images from the previous day. The caffeine group was significantly better at identifying them.

Usually, when we learn things, memory circuits are first stored in the brain in a temporary form that can easily be forgotten. They slowly consolidate into permanent memories. These findings suggest caffeine makes this consolidation more efficient, but scientists are still not sure of the biochemical mechanism. And go easy on the coffee if you're thinking of trying out the caffeine memory booster. Scientists point out the effect seems to tail off when volunteers take a higher dose, meaning more caffeine isn't necessarily better.

Dr Ashok Jansari, a psychologist at the University of East London, warned: "I would definitely not advise people start taking in as much caffeine as possible, since, in terms of memory, anything above 200mg may not help much, and if you take too much caffeine there could be negative consequences."

Dr Anders Sandberg, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, added: "Caffeine may still be helpful for paying attention to what you're studying and hence help your encoding, but the best way of boosting consolidation is sleep, which might be a problem if you take the caffeine too close to bedtime."

We already know that a lifetime of coffee drinking appears to be protective against Alzheimer's, but it is not clear if the two findings are linked.

The effect lasts 24 hours - long enough to cram

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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion Column
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 22, 2014
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