This Surprising Study Reveals the Secret Behind Your Morning Coffee’s Placebo Effect

Perhaps coffee has a placebo effect that makes us say “I can only function in the morning after drinking coffee.” What is certain is that there is some effect, from focus to mood (or, in some cases, anxiety for those who can’t function without coffee). But does drinking coffee in the morning truly affect our energy levels?

On International Coffee Day, October 1st, Versa reveals the results of a Portuguese study titled “Coffee consumption decreases the connectivity of the posterior Default Mode Network (DMN) at rest.” The study aimed to explore the idea that “coffee increases alertness and psychomotor function,” and to understand the real psychological effects of coffee/caffeine, which are subject to ongoing debate.

To obtain results, researchers gathered 83 participants, 47 of whom drank coffee and 36 drank diluted caffeine in hot water. Through an MRI scan conducted before and 30 minutes after consuming the beverage, it was observed that in both groups, brain activity decreased in the part of the brain that puts people in resting state, indicating an increase in energy. However, there was a difference between those who consumed coffee and those who consumed diluted caffeine. In the coffee group, brain activity increased in other parts of the brain related to focus, attention, and short-term memory.

So, what can we conclude? Regardless of the caffeine content, coffee can truly contribute to increased alertness, simply through any sensory experience, such as its smell, taste, or sight. This only applies to those who consume at least one coffee per day, as those who do not regularly drink coffee may not experience the same effects.

In the end, it seems that the statement we started with is not just an excuse to drink coffee and there is no placebo effect. So, go ahead and enjoy your morning coffee (at the right time) if it makes you feel better.

“The pleasure given to an individual who enjoys coffee in the morning is actually part of an almost ritual that is also important for that individual to feel ‘I am ready for the day’,” said Nuno Sousa, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the School of Medicine of the University of Minho, in Portugal, to NBC News.

The research was published in June 2023 in the scientific journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

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