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Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.
Finding Meaning Through the Many Windows of Wellness

To Caffeinate or Not to Caffeinate? Making Personal Health Decisions Must Remain Personal

Carrie Steckl, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 23rd 2012

I don't know if a propensity to coffee addiction is hereditary, but it would certainly seem so in the case of my mother and me. Both having been known for drinking enormous amounts of the stuff over the years, we only recently diverged on this societally-revered practice. She still drinks several cups a day; I have not had a cup (or any caffeine-laden drink, for that matter) in about 8 months.

coffee and beansThat is, 8 months, 2 days, 6 hours, and 42 seconds…

No, it's not really that bad. Quitting wasn't as difficult as I thought it would be. I tapered down gradually. When I'm writing or otherwise intellectually "in the zone," I do resort to a cup of decaf now and then.

Why did I quit my beloved beverage? Simple - it was a personal health decision based on how caffeine was affecting my own body. Trust me, it was not an easy decision to make, especially in the context of numerous reports in the media touting caffeine's health benefits.

In fact, I recently learned that researchers at the University of Illinois found that caffeine may block the inflammation tied to mild cognitive impairment. In the study, mice were divided into two groups - one which was provided caffeine and one which was caffeine-deprived - and studied the mice's memory formation both before and after interrupting brain activity by inducing hypoxia (a lack of adequate oxygen supply). Hypoxia often occurs after an interruption of breathing or blood flow and is theorized as a contributor to mild cognitive impairment.

They found that the caffeinated mice recovered their memory functioning 33 percent faster than the non-caffeinated mice. Essentially, the caffeine seemed to have an anti-inflammatory effect on certain brain cell receptors that can affect memory.

It's an interesting study, and it certainly makes it sound like we should start chugging down coffee in the name of saving our brains. But the thing to remember about this kind of study is that although it may be scientifically sound and well executed, it reveals a preliminary truth, not a prescription. It's a large leap to say that drinking coffee will have the same effect on the human brain as the effect that was seen in mice injected mainline with coffee's most important ingredient.

Another thing to keep in mind is that humans are incredibly unique. We each have our own specific health history and the complex combination of conditions, risk factors, and resiliencies that accompany it. While lots of caffeine may be fine for one person, it may be contraindicated, or even downright dangerous, for another. And that goes for any other health habit you read about in the news.

We must interpret health research in the context of our own individual health status, strengths, and limitations. By all means, stay informed, but trust yourself in how you apply that information.


Chiu, G. S., Chatterjee, D., Darmody, P. T., Walsh, J. P., Meling, D. D., Johnson, R. W., & Freund, G. G. (2012). Hypoxia/reoxygenation impairs memory formation via adenosine-dependent activation of caspase 1. The Journal of Neuroscience, 32(40), 13945-13955.


Carrie Steckl, Ph.D.

It’s a true blessing to have you visit my blog on mental health and wellness. I also write blogs on faith and caregiving in addition to teaching part-time for Columbia College of Missouri. For more information about my background and writing, visit my webpage at

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