Okay, myth or reality: Caffeine can enhance one's mental alertness and performance?
Sure, it sounds like one of those too-good-to-be-true ideas, but the studies continuously confirm that caffeine actually does improve performance. Not just physical, bodily improvement in terms of energy or endurance, but improvement in the old gray matter areas. It probably comes as no surprise that caffeine helps boost energy. Any cursory reading of the ingredient label on a sports energy drink confirm that. After all, professional-level athletes have a long history of tipping back a caffeine-laced drink a few hours before competition to give them an edge. Although you may be tempted to think it is the sprinters that get the most help from that sudden rush of caffeinated force, it is actually the endurance sports athletes who derive the most benefit. And it makes sense once you think about it. Who would be more likely to need caffeine rushing through their bloodstream, the 100 meter guy or the marathon man?
How does caffeine increase physical endurance? The body's best fuel lies in its fat. If it can get to that storage supply, it will run like a well-tuned race car. Caffeine is kind of like putting STP in your body; it acts to help the fat burn more efficiently. It only takes a few minutes after the caffeine has been ingested for it to travel from the intestines to the blood stream and once in the blood, it makes its way to every organ in the body. (A little side guaranteed to win a bar bet every now and then: Did you know that the liver is not the body's largest organ, as is commonly thought? It's your skin.)
Once that caffeine starts reaching the big guns inside you, it really gets down to business. Heart rate increases, smooth muscles begin to relax, digestive acids kick into overdrive. In addition, caffeine also boosts your levels of dopamine, giving an effect similar to taking an amphetamine. As if all that were not enough, caffeine also pumps adrenaline into you, no doubt contributing to that famous of surge of energy that many people get from their morning coffee. Clearly, it's not difficult to see how ingesting caffeine could enhance your physical performance. Remember, however, that that very same blood is also carrying the caffeine to the brain.
Studies have found a correlation between moderate caffeine consumption and improved mental alertness. The key word in that sentence? No, it's not "found." Moderation! To truly benefit from the ability of caffeine to help you maintain a sharper focus of attention, you can not just fill up one of those bubba mugs with 54 ounces of coffee and down it between home and the office. Unfortunately, unless you monitor the intake of the caffeine and limit it to only that which occurs normally in many foods and beverages, the advantage in mental capacity you will experience is going to be more than offset by the disadvantages, which includes many of the several withdrawal symptoms and extended periods of fatigue.
If you can keep yourself from the thought process that says if a little caffeine is good, then a lot of caffeine is to be better, you can truly enhance your mental processing abilities, including actually being able to process more information at a time. Most people probably do not need the physical performance enhancement that caffeine offers unless they are exercising. But who would not mind a little mental edge over everyone else?