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Coffee: For Optimal Results Find Your Caffeinated Balance

I love my coffee black. No sugar, no cream, just the rich, complex flavor of the world’s most beloved bean. It’s part of my daily ritual, either in the morning or afternoon or on special days both. When the first taste hits, I feel the smooth bitter taste swirl in my mouth, the notes of fruit or chocolate, the acidity, and the warmth blend together, and my mood is elevated. I am more alert, the coffeeshop I am sitting in enters the periphery and the assignment or tasks in front of me take precedent. After coffee, I feel more in control of my day, more optimistic, and generally happier and bubblier.

Coffee also opens the door to a unique world that transcends language. Every city, including Paris, has their own haven of coffeeshops, equipped with a variety of beans and a melancholy playlist perfect for work. Given its wide appeal, it unsurprising to discover that researchers are curious about its effects. Recently, Haskell- Ramsay et al, 2018 studied the acute effects of black coffee on cognition and mood amongst young people (20-34 years old) and older adults (61-80 years). Mainly Haskell-Ramsey et al, 2018 wanted to know whether it was the caffeine in the coffee that was causing these increased mood benefits or the behavioral components of drinking coffee. In order to test this, a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, counterbalanced-crossover study was used on 72 participants under three conditions: intaking 220 mL water mixed with 2.5 g coffee flavouring (placebo),220 mL regular coffee (without milk and sugar) containing 100 mg caffeine, and 220 mL decaffeinated coffee (without milk and sugar) containing ~5 mg caffeine.

Participants took cognitive assessment tests and mood measurement tests via the Computerized Mental Performance Assessment System (COMPASS) before drink intake and 30 minutes after. This metric is common in caffeine research and includes learning object locations and driving in PC simulations (Stalmach et al, 2014). Additionally, a saliva swab was taken and a caffeine research visual analogue scale was used to identify participant’s emotional and energy state prior to coffee intake. The researchers took rigorous measures in ensuring the participants were in proper testing conditions prior to intake. No coffee was consumed 24hours before the experiment, a proper breakfast was eaten at least one hour before the participants came to the lab, and a food diary were maintained (Ramsey et al, 2018). Further screening occurred the day of the study to make certain everyone was eligible.

The results were fascinating. For rapid visual information processing, object location learning, and alertness, caffeinated coffee showed statically significant difference than decaffeinated drinks. Consumption of caffeinated coffee also resulted in mood elevation and other cognitive tasks, and these benefits were seen across age groups. In the conclusion, the authors discuss that the benefits of coffee last between 4-6 hours (Stalmache). However, testing of mood and cognitive behavior were measured between 30 minutes to 120 minutes. I would be curious in future studies to see if these benefits declined, specifically if caffeine crashes led to the opposite of the positive effects of this study. Additionally, I would be interested to compare drinks with the same caffeine content to coffee and see if the mood and cognitive metrics changed. Coffee contains many chemical compounds that could be attributing to these positive effects compared to an energy drink, tea, or caffeine pill (Carrillo et al, 2000). Lastly, this study limited caffeine intake to 100mg. Does taking more than 100mg contribute to these heightened emotional and cognitive states or could it have a backfiring affect?

To better understand the beneficial parameters of caffeine and its effect on the body, Santos et al, 2016 studied the behavioral response when zebra fish were given different caffeine dosages. 144 adult zebrafish of both sexes were given one of 12 caffeine dosages: the lowest being 0.5 and the highest being 150.0mg. Caffeine was added directly to a tank containing twelve zebra fish and then observed for 60 minutes (Santos et al, 2016). For total distance traveled and freezing behavior, both were enhanced with caffeine exposure of 10 and 25mg/L, but decreased when fish were in water containing 50mg/L. Caffeine’s role in the nervous system, specifically alerting the body and enhancing performance, mainly occurs at an intermediate dose- too little no enhancement, too much a backfiring. This study is limited in its scope, however, because the zebrafish likely have never been exposed to caffeine before. However, human can be regular coffee drinkers. These studies did not account for the behavioral and mood differences found in those who regularly consume coffee as opposed to occasionally or never. The different dosages and level of dependency after years of drinking can affect the benefits of caffeine (Meredith et al, 2013).

Furthermore, these two studies focused on direct consumption of caffeine either in black coffee or directly placed in the tank, but would cream and sugar affect the effectiveness of caffeine? At home, I was a fiend for black coffee, hot or iced, but in Paris, I have become a latte gal, even indulging in the occasional espresso or flat white. Espresso based drinks such as a latte or flat white feel like a spurt of energy hitting me all at once. While coffee tends to be a slower burn, a slightly elevated state steady throughout the day. Regardless of form, coffee makes everything undeniably better, and in the right quantity can improve function. The Parisians may love wine, but I would take a latte over a bottle any day of the week.


Carrillo, J.A.; Benitez, J. Clinically significant pharmacokinetic interactions between dietary caffeine and medications. Clin. Pharmacokinet. 2000, 39, 127–153.


Haskell-Ramsay, C., Jackson, P., Forster, J., Dodd, F., Bowerbank, S., & Kennedy, D. (2018). The Acute Effects of Caffeinated Black Coffee on Cognition and Mood in Healthy Young and Older Adults. Nutrients, 10(10), 1386.


Meredith SE, Juliano LM, Hughes JR, Griffiths RR. Caffeine Use Disorder: A Comprehensive Review and Research Agenda. J Caffeine Res. 2013;3(3):114–130.


Santos, L. C., Ruiz-Oliveira, J., Silva, P. F., & Luchiari, A. C. (2017). Caffeine Dose-Response Relationship and Behavioral Screening in Zebrafish. The Question of Caffeine.


Stalmach, A.; Williamson, G.; Crozier, A. Impact of dose on the bioavailability of coffee chlorogenic acids in humans. Food Funct. 2014, 5, 1727–1737.


Oat Milk Latte

Almond Milk Latte


It Starts with Love Universal scoring vocab to any tennis fan. I grew up watching all types of sports, and tennis was not the exception. I heard names like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Sharapova, and Serena Williams(QUEEN!). The main tournaments in the tennis world are the Gland Slams. They happen 4 times a year, and during that time, you can bet that I’m constantly checking my phone for scores or watching it on television. Prior to coming to Paris, I knew that Roland Garros would take place while I was here. Never in a million years did I imagine that I would get the opportunity to attend and be able to sit and watch a match with a couple of friends. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Roland Garros Round 2 Peterson vs. Vekic

I will admit that while I was sitting, watching this tennis match at the Open, I did not wonder how the players were able to accurately hit the ball every single time. But after reflecting on my experience, I decided I wanted to do further research since I was in such awe at how beautiful and graceful they were.

Expertise Brain Regions

Do you ever wonder how a tennis player can return a ball smoothly when it’s coming at them at 92MPH? It’s almost as if they have an instinct for it. One study in particular aimed to test whether or not there was a difference in brain activation depending on the level of expertise (Balser et. al., 2014). For this study, they recruited 15 tennis experts and 16 volleyball experts chosen from a pool of professionals. They acted as the novice participants for whatever sport they were not an expert in. They were then shown videos of both volleyball and tennis players and were asked to predict where the ball would go simply based on early movement from the serve player. While this was going on, they measured the level of activation, through fMRI for three major brain areas: the Supplementary Motor Area commonly involved in the control of movement, the Superior Parietal Lobule reflecting the spatial orientation, and the cerebellum which uses a predictive internal model to solve a task. They found that the tennis player watching the tennis player serve had higher levels of activation in all 3 brain regions. This suggests that the experts will rely more on fine-tuned perceptual-motor representations than non-experts; the information has been made into a reflexive memory. This means that although the tennis players were not actively returning the serve, their brain was activated when watching the videos as if they were!

Another study looked at how people determined when an object reached the target point. Chang and Jazayeri sought to test whether people used mathematical concepts or temporal cues when engaging with dynamic stimuli and deciding the time to contact (2018). They had people look at an object moving across their visual field in 3 categories. In the first, their view of the object was obstructed, and they had the subjects guess when the object would reach a certain point. The other group never lost sight of the object. The third group was shown the object at the fixation point in the middle of the screen. Results show that when people were not able to see the object (Group 1), they based when the object had arrived on just temporal cues such as time, but when they were exposed to the object (Group 2 or 3), they still relied on both mathematical and temporal cues. In the world of tennis, this is significant because not only does the athlete calculate how quick the ball is coming at them, but they also contextualize the ball with their environment as well as listen to when the ball hits the court in order to have the most optimal response. So, it’s not just the arithmetic-side of the brain, there are also sensory inputs that go into decision-making.

I hope that the next time you’re watching a tennis match your brain does not attempt to analyze every single serve, if so, then I apologize. I know that the next time I’m watching Roger Federer (my favorite!) play for his 21st Grand Slam title hopefully here in Paris, I’ll be thinking about his tremendous ability to return a serve partly thanks to the brain. Oh, and I’ll be wearing my newly purchased Panama hat!

my Panama hat!



Balser N, Lorey B, Pilgramm S, Naumann T, Kindermann S, Stark R, et al. (2014) The influence of expertise on brain activation of the action observation network during anticipation of tennis and volleyball serves. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 8:568.

Bilalić, Merim. “Introduction to Research on Expertise (Chapter One) – The Neuroscience of Expertise.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 2017,

Image 1: taken by me

Image 2: Chang CJ, Jazayeri M (2018) Integration of speed and time for estimating time to contact. PNAS 115 (12) E2879-E2887.

Image 3: taken by me


Up In Smoke

In Paris, €5.90 will buy you one the following: conditioner, flip flops, a mozzarella sandwich or a single pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes. Beyond the opulent architecture and elegant skyline, smoke was the first thing I noticed as I wandered the picturesque streets of my new home. Cigarettes in the hands of teenagers, waiters, lawyers, mothers, and ironically, and even medical students with immunology textbooks tucked under their arms. When I asked a local friend about his general smoking habits, his response surprised me:

Well, I guess the first time I tried it was when I was 12 – all my friends were doing it after all. Now, I just need to smoke… if I don’t, I get anxious and irritated.

Twelve-years old and already smoking, how could that be possible? However, my Parisian friend is not alone. In fact, according to CDC studies, among daily smokers, 88% begin before the age of 18 (National Center, 2012). With such a large well-known body of evidence detailing the physiological and psychological consequences of tobacco and nicotine, why would a teenager reach for a cigarette in the first place?

(The National Center, 2012)

Age of Onset of Smoking

The “big picture” mechanisms of smoking seem pretty straight forward. Cigarettes contain tobacco, which in turn contains nicotine, which in turn triggers the addiction process. Addiction, or compulsive use of a substance in the face of negative consequences, is characterized by four distinct stages: introduction, sensitization, association/craving and dependence (Herman et al., 2014). However, the reasons behind why adolescents like the chain-smoking Parisian teens in particular are so vulnerable to nicotine are less understood.

One recent theory, published in Neuroscience by researchers Bang and Commons, examined the role of nicotine on the adolescent serotonin system. Serotonin (aka 5-HT) is a chemical released by neurons in the brain, and may contribute to starting and continuing addictive behavior. Based on previous research, Bang and Commons (2011) hypothesized that if they gave adolescent subjects nicotine, there would be changes in the activation of their serotonin neurons.

In the experiment, the researchers used eight groups of rats total – four with adolescents and four with adults. For both ages, three of the groups served as experimental (test) groups, and each group member received an injection of a specific dose (amount) of nicotine (0.2, 0.4, 0.8 mg/kg). The fourth group served a baseline/control group and received saline (salt water) instead of nicotine.

After humanely killing the animals, the researchers cut frontal slices each rat brain and used a process called immunohistochemistry to chemically mark the brain for specific proteins. The researchers specifically stained and measured the amount of Fos protein in brain areas important in the serotonin system (dorsal raphe and median raphe nuclei). The Fos protein corresponds to biochemical activity, so if nicotine changed or increased activity in the serotonin system, the researchers would observe increased Fos levels in comparison to the normal levels of the saline control group.

When comparing the adolescent and adult group, the researchers concluded that adolescents showed an increased, widespread activation of their brain serotonin system at the lowest (0.2mg/kg) and highest nicotine dosage (0.8mg/kg). On a larger scale, these results indicate that the adolescent serotonin system may be more sensitive to an initial exposure to nicotine. Though there needs to be more research defining the serotonin system’s role in addiction, this study helps elucidate the science behind adolescent nicotine vulnerability.

Arrows Indicate Fos Staining

Arrows Indicate Fos Staining

Somehow, (and for the sanctity of my lungs) we need to stop teens from trying cigarettes in the first place. Based on the failure of smoking bans in France and the amount of smokers I saw on a daily basis, this is easier said than done.  Research indicates that pervasiveness and social support of smoking in adolescent social networks is strongly associated with both susceptibility AND readiness to quit (Roberts et al., 2015). To relate to my own experience, none of my friends at home or on the trip smoke, so it was easy to turn down a cigarette when I was offered.

These are ALL Tobacco Shops

These are ALL Tobacco Shops in Paris

In the future, perhaps France should take after the example of the highly successful American “Truth” association, which uses the celebrity-endorsed #FINISHIT social media campaign to raise awareness about teen smoking. Until then, I’ll concede to duck around smoke clouds and spend my €5.90 on some much needed fabric Fabreze.


Bang SJ, Commons KG (2011) Age-dependent effects of initial exposure to nicotine on serotonin neurons. Neuroscience 179:1-8.

Herman Al. DeVito EE, Jensen KP, Sofuoglo ME (2014) Pharmacogenetics of nicotine addiction: role of dopamine. Pharmacogenomics 15(2):221-34.

Khan, Maria. “France: First Outdoor Public Smoking Ban in Paris Playground.” International Business Times. 20 Oct. 2014. Web. 7 Jun. 2015.

National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (US) Office on Smoking and Health. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta (GA): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); 2012. 3, The Epidemiology of Tobacco Use Among Young People in the United States and Worldwide.

Roberts ME, Nargiso JE, Gaitonde LB, Stanton CA, Colby SM (2015) Adolescent social networks: general and smoking specific characteristics associated with smoking. J Stud Alcohol Drugs 76(2):247-55

Truthorange. “Finshers 2014 | truth.” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtubem 10 Aug. 2014. Web. 7 Jun. 2015.