7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers

Coffee is an amazing drug. As we've pointed out before, it can be just as addictive as many hard drugs, but on the plus side it increases alertness, tastes fantastic and works as a temporary truth serum by making whiners admit that they're completely useless (until they've had a cup).

There's a joke that scientists are devices for turning coffee into results, and being scientists, they've taken it literally. The following studies show how caffeine makes you a better person, and we're not talking Lifetime channel hand-holding "better person." We're talking faster stronger smarter less likely to die better.

Upgrading Navy SEALs


Scientists decided to see what happens when you subject 68 Navy SEAL trainees to secret drug doses, nonstop stress and three days of sleep deprivation. That's not the sort of experiment that creates Captain America; it's the sort he has to clean up after.

And he has better things to do.

The U.S. Army's Military Nutrition Division, the most badass caterers of all time, took advantage of "Hell Week." That's where the SEALs force as many wannabes as possible to fail, and are so good at it that 22 of the study's 90 volunteers had quit before the scientists even got there. All subjects were "volunteers," but we're fairly sure that saying you're too scared to ingest coffee automatically fails you from SEAL training.

U.S. Army photostream via Flickr
"Pop smoke, they've got a Starbucks! Repeat, we are under heavy grande and need evac!"

After three days of sleep deprivation and constant torture by both superior officers and the sea itself, trainees were given caffeine and tested on marksmanship, cognitive ability, vigilance and saliva. The scientists claimed they were checking the saliva for caffeine levels, but it's more likely a test for insane, drooling, hyperaccelerated crack-shot madmen. At which point they deploy Dolph Lundgren.

They found that 200 milligrams of caffeine significantly improves vigilance, alertness and reaction time, even after half a week awake. These guys are extremely serious about getting things done. Their conclusion recommends caffeine over amphetamines because it's legally and medically easier to give to people. It's also motivating for regular people: If coffee can help Navy goddamn SEALs stay awake for 72 hours of torture, that morning coffee better not just wake you up -- you'd better karate chop through your desk and do a day's work before lunch. Standing. Violently.


Coffee vs. Cancer

Possibly on the grounds that caffeine can do anything, scientists organized a death match between store-bought coffee and human cancer cells. And coffee can't die. This wasn't some advanced caffeine extract irradiated with science rays -- they walked out of the hospital lab, bought four different coffees in the lobby and poured their very-probably-venti liquid into their experiments instead of into themselves. And coffee is so awesome, it's useful in both places.

Though we usually prefer medical researchers not to use a kid's "Pour this in and see what happens" approach.

It exhibited antiproliferative effects on cancer cells, preventing them from multiplying, and multiplying is cancer's entire deal. Even at dilutions of 1:70, the coffee inhibited cancer cell activity. Flow cytometry analysis -- the cellular equivalent of instant replay -- showed that the coffee even made some of the cancer cells kill themselves. That's a level of psychological combat you don't normally see at the cellular level.

"You're fat, you're ugly and, trust us, absolutely no one loves you."

Other studies have shown that caffeine also increases the effectiveness of radiation therapy and tumoricidal drugs. It really helps everything work harder, even gamma rays, and their job is a hell of a lot more important than yours.

Faster, Better Than Before

Coffee enables you to not only do stupid things faster, but also run away from the results faster as well.

He just "fixed" the server by rebooting it.

This is because caffeine is a turbocharging kit for your cardiovascular system. The liver breaks it down into three demethylated chemicals, and they're a better-designed hyperactivity team than the Power Rangers. Paraxanthine increases lipolysis, converting fat into glycol fuel and dumping it into the blood. Theobromine dilates your body's blood vessels. Theophylline relaxes smooth muscle tissue, allowing your heart to beat faster and more efficiently. So your blood is flowing faster and in greater volume, and it contains more muscle fuel.

The sprint study showed an improvement of one second over a 20-meter sprint. If that doesn't sound like much to those of us who double as Dorito storage tanks, one second faster over such a short distance is the difference between life and death when it comes to crossing the street before that speeding truck arrives, outrunning that bear and every other use of sprinting that doesn't involve track and field.

A 5-kilometer study showed a 1 percent improvement in times for both trained and amateur runners. So this isn't some minor chemical effect that only applies to those at the top of their game: Anyone in any game is improved by coffee, as long as that game involves running like hell.

They're already training for London 2012's looting event.

Brain Upgrades

Many treat coffee as a way to be less crap, something to cancel out tiredness and hopefully restore you to "sentient being" instead of "sweating paperweight." But caffeine doesn't just clean up your skull after last night's party; it improves the human brain above and beyond normal values. After dosing volunteers with small amounts of caffeine first thing in the morning (which they apparently had to do in a special facility, instead of going to any office anywhere in the world), scientists found increases in vigilance, vigor, energy, anger, efficiency and reaction time. Or in other words, caffeine is Batman.

Lady Orlando on Flickr
Criminals are a fatigued, unproductive lot.

Reaction time decreased with increasing blood plasma caffeine concentration, without an increase in errors. The paper concludes that caffeine "significantly improves human performance and mood." They found that these results were further enhanced when combined with aspirin, a superhero serum often used by brave warriors fighting their deadly nemesis, The Hangover.


Curse his mind-breaking powers!

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Luke McKinney

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