7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers

There's a joke that scientists are devices for turning coffee into results, and being scientists, they've taken it literally.
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

EfFecTS of caffeine, sleep loss, and stress on cognitive performance and mood during U.S. Navy SEAL training. Psychopharmacology, 2002, 164, 250-261.

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.

7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers
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.

7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers


Coffee vs. Cancer

7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers

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.

7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers

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

Effect of caffeine supplementation on repeated sprint running performance Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 2008, 48, 472-478 Caffeine

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

7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers

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.

7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers

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

Brain Upgrades

The effects of low doses of caffeine on human performance and mood Psychopharmacology, 1987, 92(3), 308-312. The Effects of Caffeine and Aspirin on Mo

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.

7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers

Curse his mind-breaking powers!

Neuroprotective Effects

Adenosine, Adenosine Receptors and the Actions of Caffeine Pharmacology & Toxicology, 1995, 76, 93-101 Prospective Study of Caffeine Consumption and R

Caffeine doesn't improve your day -- it improves you, by altering your brain's chemistry. Adenosine agonizes brain receptors, which really doesn't sound like something that would make you sleepy, but is. It's released as you think, and the more of it you have sloshing around your skull, the higher the voltage required to fire neurons. It electrically gets harder to think until you have to switch off and sleep. Caffeine antagonizes these receptors. It has a similar enough shape to connect with them, blocking adenosine, but not similar enough to make them change the voltage. It's the good opposite of that asshole blocking seats on the train with his bag. Suppressing adenosine allows the brain to enjoy more dopamine effects, which are basically all the good ones. You're awake, alert, intelligent and motivated. Coffee is great!

7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers

It's like smart in a mug!

And the more you use it, the longer your brain will work. Long-term caffeine use has been found to reduce the risk of brain damage, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, epileptic seizures and even stroke. A 10-year study of over 130,000 people found that the more coffee men drank, the safer they were against Parkinson's. Another showed that just one cup a day cuts the risk in half. Women also benefit, but caffeine is apparently a bit Victorian and advises ladies to enjoy in moderation. A few cups daily cut the risk to about 55 percent, but unwomanly excess increases the risk again.

7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers

"Honestly, baby, I'm saving your brain by making you stay half-naked in the kitchen."

The most kickass curative effect is how low doses of "caffeinol" are highly neuroprotective. Caffeinol is equivalent to three cups of strong coffee and one cocktail. That's not us simplifying the amounts for you -- that's exactly how the scientists defined the ratio. When a research paper gives mixing instructions, it's not just a treatment, it's a party. They brilliantly recommend that this treatment should be safe to add to other therapies. We're also fairly sure this means that White Russians are an immortality serum for a perfectly balanced brain. Truly, The Dude had it worked out all along.

Liver Lifesaver

Coffee, Tea and Mortality Annals of Epidemiology, 1993, 3(4), 375-381 Coffee and Tea Consumption Are Associated with a Lower Incidence of Chronic Live

That's not the only reason to drink alcohol and caffeine. They're also delicious and productive, and without them the Cracked offices would resemble an accountant's tomb. Oh, and your risk of cirrhosis drops 22 percent with every cup.

7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers

It's tequila time tonight!

A study of over 120,000 people found that death by liver cirrhosis decreases with coffee intake. Note that it's a 22 percent reduction compared to the value from the previous cup, so five cups won't give your liver the ability to regenerate by 110 percent when exposed to alcohol. No, instead you'll only have reduced your risk by a piddling 73 percent. (We do mean piddling. Five cups of coffee is a non-trivial bladder event.)


He's pissing his way to immortality.

A more recent study found that drinking two or more cups daily cut the risk of chronic liver disease in half. Brilliantly, this only applies to people already at higher risk due to heavy alcohol intake or obesity. Coffee isn't a vice; it protects you from other indulgences. A drug hasn't been this magically tempting since '80s cartoons. But you have to do it properly. Multivariate-adjusted analysis showed that the hazard ratio was halved by proper ground coffee, but actually increased 30 percent by decaffeinated or instant coffee. Because if you're going to disrespect coffee, it'll disrespect you back right in the liver.

Table 5. Multivariate-Adjusted Relative Risks and 95% Confidence Intervals for Chronic Liver Disease at 1982-1984 Follow- Up Examination Multivariate-
GASTROENTEROLOGY 2005;129:1928–1936

Insulting the barista gods is unwise.

Hazard Ratio is now the name of our action movie starring an actuary who plays by his own rules.

Actual Lifesaver

Coffee, Tea and Mortality Annals of Epidemiology, 1993, 3(4), 375-381 A Prospective study of Coffee Drinking and Suicide in Women Archives of Internal

If you've ever complained that you can't survive without your morning coffee, you're a whiner, but one-eighth correct. The cirrhosis study above also revealed that the rate of suicide drops by 13 percent for every cup of coffee consumed daily. True, those people were all Californians, but it's probably applicable to the rest of the species, too. (When people build a megalopolis on a known fault line, they're clearly more vulnerable to suicidal effects.)

7 Scientific Ways Coffee Gives You Super Powers

Californians view tectonic timebombs as wacky neighbors.

We're all familiar with the feeling. Before your morning coffee, the world really doesn't seem worth the effort. Another study followed over 86,000 women for eight years, which is something you can do without being arrested if you're a scientist. They found that two or three cups daily cut the relative risk of suicide to 34 percent. And these weren't average people -- they were registered nurses, people whose job description is "See all the horrible shit that can happen to people."


"Coffee makes the daily genital wart discharges bearable!"

Java doesn't just make you do more, and do it better: It makes you want to do it more and for longer. Luke McKinney's favorite coffee is the Black Blood of the Earth, an experimental ultra-coffee brewed by a radiation expert who trains bomb squads in nuclear device disposal, and used to be barman at the South Pole. Really. Luke is much less interesting, but still tumbles and has a website.
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