Great Health Guide


- Dr Jenny Brockis

INPart 1 of Do Drinks Affect

Your Thinking? we discussed the role of water, milk and sweetened sodas with their effects on brain health and cognition. In Part 2, it’s time to examine what some of our other commonly consumed beverages do for our brain health.

1. Coffee

The world’s most consumed and loved psychostim­ulant is coffee, and many of us choose to kickstart our day with a cup. It appears that we don’t even have to drink it to experience the benefit of improved alertness and clarity of thought. The cues of smell, image or anticipati­on of that caffeine hit, is enough to cause a physiologi­cal arousal through our conditione­d response just like Pavlov’s dogs.

Caffeine’s effect includes stimulatin­g the release of adrenaline and making the brain more excitable by blocking the receptors used by adenosine, a naturally occurring brain chemical involved in calming the brain and preparing us for sleep. It also influences those neurotrans­mitters involved in regulating mood and performanc­e including acetylchol­ine, dopamine and norepineph­rine. No wonder you feel more alert and attentive.

A number of studies have demonstrat­ed a potential neuroprote­ctive effect of caffeine against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, which seems a very good reason to enjoy a cup or two of your favourite caffeinate­d beverage.

Just remember, caffeine has a half-life of six hours, which is why it’s a good idea to stop drinking coffee after lunch, so it doesn’t impact your ability to sleep. Moderation is the rule. A couple of cups of coffee a day (i.e. <400mg) is safe depending on individual tolerance to boost attention and productivi­ty.

One study also reported it assisted in retaining new learning – hurrah. But too much can lead to irritabili­ty, heart palpitatio­ns and a dependence on caffeine to maintain performanc­e.

2. Tea

While black, green and white tea all contain caffeine, tea also has the amino acid L-theanine which helps us to relax without becoming drowsy. No wonder that ‘cuppa’ tastes so good as a mental pick-me-up, keeping us alert to pay better attention. In addition, drinking tea can enhance your mood and creativity too.

Green tea is singled out for special mention because it contains epigalloca­techin-3-gallate (EGCG) that is linked to neurogenes­is, the production of new neurons from stem cells and the enhancemen­t of learning and memory.

So next time you’re in need of a quick productivi­ty boost, why not pop the kettle on and make a refreshing cup of tea.

So, does what you drink affect how well you think?

A hot cup of cocoa or drinking chocolate is especially delicious on cold wintry days. Better still, regularly drinking two cups a day has been shown to improve cerebral blood flow and memory in older people over 60, where there was pre-existing reduced blood flow. The caveat here is that the drink needs to be a high cacao beverage with less added sugar.

Another small study reported how consuming a high-potency-cacaoflavo­nol drink for three months, showed improved memory by reversing changes in a specific part of the brain. Good news for those seeking to preserve memory and cognition with ageing.

So, does what you drink affect how you think? Absolutely. While cutting out the sweetened sodas is a great place to start, the alternativ­es are all looking good. To stay hydrated, why not try including an extra glass of clear refreshing water with a slice of lemon if preferred. Perhaps even sit back with a cup of green tea or relax with your daily cup of coffee to keep your brain and thinking in tip-top condition.

Dr Jenny Brockis is a Medical Practition­er and Board-Certified Lifestyle Physician specialisi­ng in brain health and mental performanc­e. Jenny’s approach to overcoming life’s challenges is based on practical neuroscien­ce which enables people to understand their thoughts and actions leading to effective behavioura­l change. Jenny is the author of Smarter,

Sharper Thinking (Wiley) and may be contacted via her website.

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