Brains Trust: The beverage edition

Caffeine and alcohol are the corporate world’s drugs of choice. No substance is more ubiquitous than coffee in the modern office, and while long boozy lunches have declined in importance, the social lubricant is still a given at any after-five function.

Our reliance on these chemicals is given encouragement by two new pieces of research.

The first relates to coffee. According to research published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, people who drink four or five cups of coffee a day tend to live longer than those who drink only a cup or less. This is especially the case for women, who cut their risk of death by 16%, than men, 12%.

Here’s the catch. Those results only held true when the researchers weeded out the smokers. Smokers who drank coffee died earlier than people who didn’t drink coffee. Smokers were more likely to drink coffee. Moral of the story: don’t smoke, but drink coffee.

The study followed 33,731 men and 18,784 women aged 50 or older between 1995 and 2008. The study was observational, which the researchers say makes it difficult for them to work out cause and effect (ie. whether coffee is what causes people to live longer, or whether coffee drinkers tend to be richer and therefore more likely to live longer, for example).  But know this: if you’re a heavy coffee drinker, you have lots of long-lived company.

Next, alcohol.

Most managers would hesitate to allow alcohol to be consumed in the middle of the day. But it can have benefits, according to a delightfully named study, Uncorking the muse, published last month in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

Scientists from the University of Illinois found that men who drink two pints of beer or two glasses of wine (leading to a blood alcohol content of around 0.075) were able to answer more brainteasers correctly and come to their answers quicker than their sober companions.

The researchers believe the light buzz worked to reduce their subject’s working memory or concentration. Loosening focus then improved the men’s ability to discover new connections between loosely related concepts.

The study only used men, and higher levels of intoxication were not tested.

So maybe next time you’re stuck on a problem, don’t feel bad about a quick drink. It could help.


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