Think about that the next time you walk into a coffee shop. Because your brain responds to the smell of coffee in much the same way as those tailgaters on game day: Just the aroma of brewing java can release some of its stimulating benefits, without actually drinking it.
Well research has proven that it is, indeed true. The researchers didn’t begin studying the effects of the smell of coffee on the brain until just a few years ago, and what they found backed up what many of us knew anecdotally well before the issue was examined in a lab. The compounds that make up the scent of coffee beans was enough to release certain proteins in the brains of sleep-deprived laboratory rats, including one known for its antioxidant function. So convincing was data that the researchers wondered if simply smelling coffee - and not drinking it - would be more beneficial to people who are looking to pull an all-nighter.
Further independent research also shed light on how drinking and smelling coffee might affect genes and proteins in the brain. Study authors, led by Han-Seouk Seo of Seoul National University, write that this is one of the first bits of research to look at how the smell of coffee affects us, or in this case how it affects lab rats, some of which had not gotten enough sleep.
"There are few studies that deal with the beneficial effects of coffee aroma," study authors write. "This study is the first effort to elucidate the effects of coffee bean aroma on the sleep deprivation-induced stress in the rat's brain."Researchers examined the rats' brains to try to "unravel the molecular effects" of the smell of coffee on the brain. Here's some of what they found:
- The coffee-sniffing sleep-deprived rats showed different levels of activity in 17 genes in the brain.
- Levels of some brain proteins also changed in ways that could have a calming effect on stress or have antioxidant function.
Does this mean you could keep a bag of roasted coffee beans near your desk for that four o'clock slump, taking a whiff to perk you up? That remains to be answered but it is really cool to think that you can get a health benefit just from the smell of your morning brewing!
The study is doubly intriguing to me, because the lab rats don’t have the other mechanism that makes the smell of coffee a stimulant in humans: emotion. (At least, we all really hope rats don’t have feelings.) Because olfactory nerves are actually, physically connected to the emotion center in the brain, scents trigger some of the most powerful and potent trips down memory lane. Words and facts, on the other hand, are processed in the parts of the brain responsible for thinking and reasoning. Which is why you don’t usually get jazzed remembering that college lecture, but the smell of coffee may bring back thoughts of your parents’ or grandparents’ house, or some other fond memory of a place and time.
I love my coffee - many of you already know that! I love it so much I wrote a book about the history and health benefits of this wonderful brew, you find more about the book here.
Happy Gardening!! (& Good Coffee!!)