Some vitamins for memory, such as caffeine, have an effect on the reward system in the brain. One important neurotransmitter (a chemical through which the brain cells communicate) in this reward system is dopamine. Dopamine is tightly related to learning and memory, because it is thought to control the reward system that helps positive experiences.
Dopamine has been studied extensively, but never have the levels of dopamine been decreased to almost zero in a living being. This would almost certainly kill any living creature, because it would not be motivated (to eat, for example) nor would it be able to learn. Or would it? Riemensperger and his colleagues tried to answer that question by eliminating dopamine in a fruit fly called Drosophila melanogaster. (more…)
Are energy drinks vitamins for memory?
A recent study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has sparked the debate on energy drinks again. According to the AAP, energy drinks, and particularly the high amounts of caffeine in the drink, can be dangerous for children. Energy drinks have also been linked to obesity in children, because of their high sugar and calorie levels.
These warnings are not new. Three years ago a research in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association concluded that caffeine and sugar are present in amounts ‘to cause a variety of adverse health effects’. Ironically, the supposedly vitamins for memory like guarana, taurine and ginseng ‘were far below the amounts expected to deliver either therapeutic benefits or adverse events.’
Nevertheless, many people attribute great efforts to Red Bull and the likes. Many college students seem to be unable to complete an exam without the supposedly vitamins for memory. A survey of more than 500 college students revealed that more than half drank an energy drink at least once a month for insufficient sleep (67%), to increase energy (65%) or to study or complete a major course project (50%). They kept drinking the energisers despite 22% reporting headaches and 19% reporting heart palpitations from consuming those drinks.
Many college students take energy drinks as vitamins for memory
College students put up with quite a bit of, let’s say, inconveniences to have their energy drink. No doubt that the large amounts of caffeine are energy boosters, but one question remains: do energy drinks help memorise study material? In other words, are the ingredients in drinks with impressive names like Monster or RockStar vitamins for memory?
In this article I will focus mainly on taurine and caffeine, the ingredients of most energy drinks. A can of Red Bull, the first energy drink on the market in 1987, contains about the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee and 1,000 mg of taurine. It is a formula that gives wings to sales: Red Bull sells more than 3 billion cans a year.
Are caffeine and taurine vitamins for memory?
Arguably those sales would not be reached if Red Bull would advertise with the history behind taurine. Taurine has its root in the Latin word Taurus, meaning bull, because it was originally found in the bile of an ox (castrated bull). Another source of taurine is the urine of female cattle, but not to worry, that is not the source of taurine in your energy drink. The taurine in Monster or RockStar is made synthetically.
Taurine is also found in the brain, but neuroscientists are still puzzled by how brain cells put it to use.
One line of research uses animal models to study the effects of taurine. Most findings point out that taurine improves memory of mice and rats with memory deficiencies (produced by alcohol, for example). When it comes to healthy animals, the results are less clear.
The focus on the effects of energy drinks in humans has largely been on health related issues. Three studies have researched the effect of energy drinks on cognitive performance. Results revealed that energy drinks had positive effects on mental performance, information processing, alertness, concentration and physical endurance. Although these cognitions are linked to memory, this does not necessarily mean that memory is improved and energy drinks are vitamins for memory.
Moreover, one of the studies (Warburton et al.) found no effect of energy drinks on memory. Another study (Bichler et al.) came to the same conclusion: college students did not show any improvement on a short-term memory task after drinking an energy drink, compared to students who received a similar drink without taurine and caffeine, which are known vitamins for memory.
Interestingly, caffeine on its own has received more support for improving memory (see ‘Memory supplements – caffeine: the world’s most popular drug‘). However, when caffeine is combined in energy drinks with taurine (and a lot of sugar), these memory effects seem to disappear.
Conclusion on energy drinks as vitamins for memory
Although energy drinks make one feel more alert and improve mental performance, they should not be taken as vitamins for memory. Some animal studies show that taurine improves memory, but this is mainly in animals with a memory deficiency. The combination of taurine and caffeine do not seem to have improved memory effects in healthy people. The lack of a positive effect on memory, combined with a variety of adverse health effects, may be enough reason for some not to consume energy drinks.
Alford, et al. (2001). The effects of red bull energy drink on human performance and mood. Amino Acids, 21, 139-150.
Bichler, et al. (2006). A combination of caffeine and taurine has no effect on short term memory but induces changes in heart rate and mean arterial blood pressure. Amino Acids, 31, 471-476.
Clauson, et al. (2008). Safety issues associated with commercially available energy drinks. Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, 48.
Malinauskas, et al. (2007). A survey of energy drink consumption patterns among college students. Nutrition Journal, 6, 1-7. (link)
Seidl, et al. (2000). A taurine and caffeine containing drink stimulates cognitive performance and well being. Amino Acids, 19, 635-642.
Warburton, et al. (2001). An evaluation of a caffeinated taurine drink on mood, memory and information processing in healthy volunteers without caffeine abstinence. Psychopharmacology, 158, 322-328.
Vitamins for memory
One of the memory supplements that is used most in scientific studies is the good ol’ cup of coffee. It not only makes sure that the subjects in a study are awake – which is quite an accomplishment during some amazingly boring tests – but these memory supplements also boost concentration, mood and memory.
I never used to drink coffee – let’s be honest, that taste needs a lot of sugar and milk. However, after reading a couple of studies where the subjects on caffeine outperformed the control subjects, I always made sure I had a pot of coffee before I started studying for a test.
And it worked: my grades improved.
Memory supplements like caffeine boost concentration, mood and memory
I was probably the last one to find out about the benefits of coffee: caffeine appears to be the number 1 drug consumed in the United States and Europe. American adults, for example, drink more than 300mg of caffeine a day in their lattes, colas and teas. While a normal dose of caffeine is considered 100mg a day – one cup of coffee. This doesn’t mean that someone who drinks 3, 4 or, like some of my friends, 8 cups of coffee a day, is 3, 4 or 8 times as sharp, clever or happy as someone who drinks just one cup. The benefits of caffeine have its limits and continued exposure these memory supplements results in a tolerance for the drug. Not only needs a heavy coffee drinker more caffeine to boost their brain power, withdrawal can also result in a drop in blood pressure which can result in headaches.
What are the effects of a latte, macchiato or memory supplements with caffeine on the brain?
Caffeine stimulates nerve cells in the brain, which release the hormone epinephrine (adrenaline). This hormone increases heart rate, blood pressure, and blood flow to the muscles. Along other pathways in the brain, caffeine also increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a chemical through which the brain cells communicate. Dopamine is known to be important in learning.
Coffee, cola and tea are also memory supplements
But you don’t have to look on a neuronal level to see the effects of caffeine in the brain. In studies that used fMRI scanners, which make pictures of the brain while the subject is performing a task, it was shown that brain areas that are involved in retaining information were more active after caffeine intake. In other words, caffeine does not only make one more alert, coffee, cola and tea are also memory supplements.
Because of this close link between memory and caffeine, researchers have started to explore whether there is a relationship between memory loss, a major symptom of Alzheimer’s disease, and caffeine intake. First studies show indeed that middle-aged people who drink moderate amounts of coffee significantly reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
However, it is still too early to come up with a conclusive answer whether memory supplements like caffeine can protect against Alzheimer’s disease. In energy drinks for example, caffeine seems to lose its memory effect.