Deux tasses de cafés et des grains de cafés formant un visage sur un fond jaune

Is your morning coffee essential to boost your energy or is it a placebo effect?

Jul 02, 2023

Is morning coffee really the boost we need to start the day, or is it just a placebo effect?

A new study reveals that coffee and caffeine do not have the same effects on our brain. Let's dive into the details of this fascinating research.

Coffee vs caffeine: a noticeable difference

Researchers have compared the neurological effects of coffee and caffeine consumption . They found that coffee and the sight of the coffee cup , but not caffeine , increased brain activity related to visual processing and high-level cognitive function. This means that some key benefits of coffee consumption might not just be related to caffeine but also to the brain's simple vision of the cup of coffee.

Coffee: a morning ritual for many

Many people drink coffee as soon as they wake up to overcome fatigue , stay alert, and work efficiently. About 75% of the US population age 20 and older drink coffee, and about 49% drink coffee daily.
Several people clattering their cups of coffee

Caffeine: the best-known compound in coffee

Caffeine is the best-known compound in coffee and is known to activate dopamine pathways that boost memory. However, while research is well-known about its neurochemical effects on the brain , less is understood about its psychological effects.

Caffeine tolerance and withdrawal symptoms

Some research shows that coffee can affect cognitive performance in people who are not used to drinking it. However, it has less effect on habitual drinkers, as they develop a tolerance. The same research suggests that much of the invigorating effects of coffee and caffeine can be explained by the reversal of withdrawal symptoms after short periods of abstinence .

The sensory experience of drinking coffee

Recently, researchers compared fMRI data from habitual coffee drinkers before and after consuming coffee or caffeine. They found that coffee and caffeine caused changes in brain activity , decreasing "default network connectivity."

This suggests that consuming caffeine or coffee helps people transition from rest to working on tasks. However, the researchers also found that other modes of activity are exclusively increased in coffee drinkers. This could be due to the sensory experience of drinking coffee or other compounds present in coffee.

Other components of coffee

Coffee components, such as terpenes – cafestol and kahweol, and polyphenols such as chlorogenic acids, interact with various brain receptors to increase energy, improve mood and give us that motivated state of mind . Terpenes and polyphenols in coffee have been studied and shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that have been linked to a lower risk of depression.

Limitations of the study

It is important to note that the study has some limitations, including the absence of groups of non-drinkers or decaf drinkers and the absence of task-related fMRI data or cognitive assessments. Additionally, it is unclear how the coffee and caffeine groups were matched with respect to sociodemographic characteristics and consumption of coffee and/or other caffeinated beverages.


In conclusion, this study shows that some of the benefits of coffee consumption come independently from caffeine. This means that drinking decaffeinated coffee in the morning can also make people more alert and focused. So the next time you enjoy your morning cup of coffee, know that it's not just the caffeine that gives you that boost!

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