Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I Can't Hear You...

A morning without coffee is like sleep


People who drink more than seven cups of instant coffee a day have an increased tendency to hallucinate - and may even think they sense ghosts, according to research revealed today.

High caffeine users were three times more likely to have heard a non-existent person's voice than "low" users who consumed less than one cup of instant coffee or its equivalent, scientists found.

Besides coffee, caffeine can be obtained from sources such as tea, chocolate, "pep" pills and energy drinks.

The researchers from the University of Durham pointed out that hallucinations are not necessarily a sign of mental illness and around 3% of people regularly hear voices.

They studied 200 students who were asked about their typical intake of caffeine-containing products.

The students' susceptibility to hallucinatory experiences and stress levels were also assessed. Among the experiences reported were seeing things that were not there, hearing voices, and sensing the presence of dead people.

Caffeine's ability to exacerbate the effects of stress may explain the findings, the scientists believe.

When under stress, the body releases a hormone called cortisol, which is produced in greater quantities after consuming caffeine. The extra cortisol boost could be what helps a person hallucinate.

Psychologist Simon Jones, the PhD student who led the study, said: "This is a first step towards looking at the wider factors associated with hallucinations.

"Previous research has highlighted a number of important factors, such as childhood trauma, which may lead to clinically relevant hallucinations. Many such factors are thought to be linked to hallucinations, in part because of their impact on the body's reaction to stress.

"Given the link between food and mood, and particularly between caffeine and the body's response to stress, it seems sensible to examine what a nutritional perspective may add."

Co-author Dr Charles Fernyhough, also from the University of Durham's psychology department, pointed out that the study only showed an association between caffeine intake and hallucination proneness, not a causal link.

"One interpretation may be that those students who were more prone to hallucinations used caffeine to help cope with their experiences," he said.

"More work is needed to establish whether caffeine consumption, and nutrition in general, has an impact on those kinds of hallucination that cause distress."

The researchers now plan to investigate whether other aspects of diet, such as sugar and fat consumption, might be associated with hallucinations.

"We're hoping to look at people in a clinical setting, patients who seek help for hallucinations, and see whether nutritional intervention might have an affect," Mr Jones said.

"It's surprising that there has been so little research into nutrition and hallucinations. In some countries high consumption levels of sugar and saturated fat are linked to poor mental health outcomes, though it's difficult to tease apart the different factors involved."

Cortisol may help to trigger hallucinations by affecting mechanisms in the brain involving dopamine, a neurotransmitter chemical that passes messages between neurons, experts believe.
Schizophrenia, a psychotic illness that generates hallucinations, is thought to be triggered by excess dopamine activity.

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and Medical Research Council, appears in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Way too much coffee. But if it weren't for the coffee, I'd have no identifiable personality whatsoever

David Letterman

In Seattle you haven't had enough coffee until you can thread a sewing machine while it's running.

Jeff Bezos

It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity. I bet this kind of thing does not happen to heroin addicts. I bet that when serious heroin addicts go to purchase their heroin, they do not tolerate waiting in line while some dilettante in front of them orders a hazelnut smack-a-cino with cinnamon sprinkles.

Dave Barry

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You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.

Harlan Ellison