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Do you absolutely need a jolt of caffeine to get going in the morning? Are you convinced that a cup of coffee gives you an edge? According to one English study, you may need coffee to boost your performance or just to function only because you drink coffee.
Research conducted at the University of Bristol's Department of Experimental Psychology found that the stimulatory effects of caffeine that many coffee "addicts" experience may be just a reversal of the negative effects of caffeine withdrawal.
The study, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, tested 379 people, half of whom typically used little or no caffeine and half of whom were medium or high users. The participants abstained from caffeine for 16 hours and were then given either caffeine or a placebo. All were asked to rate their levels of anxiety, alertness and headache before and after the caffeine or the placebo. They were also asked to perform a series of computer tasks to test for memory, attentiveness and vigilance. The results showed that there was little difference in the subjects' responses.
The higher caffeine users who received the placebo felt less alert and had headaches, which are typical caffeine withdrawal symptoms. High caffeine users who received caffeine instead of the placebo didn't have the withdrawal symptoms but their level of alertness was no higher than the lower users who received a placebo.
While caffeine is generally understood to increase both alertness and anxiety, the researchers believe that frequent coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to both effects. They may feel alert after drinking coffee, but the study results suggest that this is merely the reversal of the fatiguing effects of acute caffeine withdrawal. As for anxiety, the study authors suggest that heavy caffeine drinkers also develop a tolerance for that, making the effect mostly unnoticeable.
The authors concluded that there is no real advantage to consuming caffeine because the boost is just bringing a moderate or high caffeine user back to the normal status of a non-user or mild user.
If you've been afraid to kick your caffeine habit because it might mean losing your edge, worry no more. At least according to this study, you'll be fine.
Coffee and caffeine remain a puzzle, sometimes promoting health and happiness and in other circumstances contributing to disease and discomfort.
What's your take? Are you an addict or have you given up the habit?