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January 1, 2024

Is Caffeine “Brain Food”?

Because of its stimulatory effects, caffeine has been touted as offering brain health benefits. It’s true: Caffeine can speed up certain mental processes and, of course, it can increase vigilance, especially when one is fatigued. However...

There are emerging concerns about deleterious effects of caffeine when it comes to long-term brain health, with some newer research raising concerns that caffeine may undermine learning through harmful effects on something called “long-term potentiation.”1 

Although some of these biochemistry insights are new, the tendency of caffeine to impair learning—and impair the development of new healthy behaviors—is not. The famous Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov, reportedly dubbed caffeine “bad habit glue.” Like Pavlov, I’ve found ample evidence connecting caffeine and unhealthy habits—both in my patients and in the medical literature. 

My most memorable experience occurred when I helped run a series of weeklong residential stop-smoking programs. We didn’t allow any caffeine in our facility and instructed participants to remain caffeine-free when they returned home. 
We followed up with the participants in the weeks and months after those programs. We made a startling discovery: All those who remained caffeine-free also stayed nicotine-free. However, many of those who returned to coffee or other caffeinated beverages went back to smoking. 2 
However, some of the most impressive data linking caffeine to bad habits came from a huge study involving more than 600,000 people.3 When the raw figures were analyzed, the researchers observed: “In age-adjusted analyses, coffee consumption was associated with increased mortality among both men and women.” In other words, when comparing two people of the same age, the one who drinks the most coffee is most likely to die first. 

Earlier mortality among coffee drinkers was not surprising when you realize what else the researchers uncovered: The more coffee someone drank, the more likely he or she was to… 

  • Smoke cigarettes 

  • Drink more than three alcoholic beverages daily 

  • Eat more red meat 

  • Have lower educational attainments 

  • Neglect to engage in vigorous physical activity 

  • Consume fewer fruits and vegetables 

These evidences of caffeine acting as “bad habit glue” should provide a sobering wake-up call to Seventh-day Adventists. After all, decades ago when God encouraged His people through His prophet to avoid coffee and tea, His rationale never had anything to do with longevity (the common metric used by researchers today). God seems to have been concerned about our Christian walk, and the influence these caffeinated beverages would have on making it more difficult to follow His counsel in other areas.4 


  1. For example, see Vigne M, Kweon J, et al. Chronic caffeine consumption curbs rTMS-induced plasticity. Front. Psychiatry, 22 February 2023. 

  1. DeRose DJ, Braman MA, et al. Alternative and complementary therapies for nicotine addiction [abstract]. Complementary Health Practice Review 2000 Fall; 6(1):98. 

  1. Freedman ND, Park Y, et al. Association of coffee drinking with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J Med. 17 May 2012. 

  1. For example, see White EG, Testimonies for the Church, Volume 3, p. 563 

David DeRose, MD, MPH is a board-certified specialist in internal medicine and Preventative Medicine. He also pastors the Fort Wayne Church in Indiana. This article is adapted from his book, "The Methuselah Factor: Learn How to Live Sharper, Leaner, Longer and Better—in Thirty Days or Less."