60-Second Science

Just Smelling Coffee Helps Head

Sleep-deprived rats that merely smelled coffee had genes activated in their brains that eased stress. Steve Mirsky explains, with reporting by Harvey Black.

[The following is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

That morning coffee is just the thing to get the brain in gear and the body moving. But it turns out that just the aroma of coffee also gets some of our genes up and at ‘em. That’s according to research in the June 25th issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The authors report that a sniff of coffee turns on several genes in the brain in ways that help diminish the impact of sleep deprivation. In rats, at least. 

Rats that were stressed by lack of sleep were exposed to the smell of coffee. Seventeen different genes got activated in their brains.  And thirteen of them produced proteins known to protect nerve cells from the damaging effects of stress. While there have been numerous studies analyzing the health impact of the ingredients ingested when drinking coffee, the researchers say that this is the first study to examine the effects of coffee’s aroma. So maybe you don’t have to shell out that four dollars for the latte—just walk by the counter…[old TV ad: “smell the honest coffee smell, ahhh, smell it!”]

—Steve Mirsky explains, with reporting by Harvey Black

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