A lesson on coffee’s benefits from the birds but mostly the bees

In our quixotic effort to convince the world, or at least the world of Ashtanga practitioners, that coffee is of fundamental value, we present this:

Plant defense compounds occur in floral nectar, but their ecological role is not well understood. We provide evidence that plant compounds pharmacologically alter pollinator behavior by enhancing their memory of reward. Honeybees rewarded with caffeine, which occurs naturally in nectar of Coffea and Citrus species, were three times as likely to remember a learned floral scent as were honeybees rewarded with sucrose alone. Caffeine potentiated responses of mushroom body neurons involved in olfactory learning and memory by acting as an adenosine receptor antagonist. Caffeine concentrations in nectar did not exceed the bees’ bitter taste threshold, implying that pollinators impose selection for nectar that is pharmacologically active but not repellent. By using a drug to enhance memories of reward, plants secure pollinator fidelity and improve reproductive success.

We can let NPR put that into something slightly more like English (the New York Times is also covering it here):

The researchers wanted to know whether the bees would respond differently to flowers that contained a caffeinated nectar, compared to those that just had sugary nectar.

And, wow, turns out there was quite a difference. The bees feeding on the caffeinated nectar were three times better able to remember the flowers’ odor 24 hours later, Stevenson says.

So could this mean that a caffeinated bee has a better memory? “That’s exactly what the study shows,” he says.

“They [the caffeinated bees] just didn’t forget,” says Wright.

And the benefit of remembering? Wright says these bees may have an advantage over their pollinating competitors in terms of locating food.

Intriguingly, NPR detours to this (which the NYT doesn’t):

Some of the best studies on the effects of caffeine on people come from the U.S. military, where caffeine has been studied as a way to keep soldiers alert.

In one study, researchers observed the effects of caffeine on a group of sailors who were training to become Navy Seals.

During one portion of that training, they are substantially sleep deprived and exposed to a variety of other stressors, “including cold temperatures and demanding physical activities,” explains researcher Harris Lieberman of the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass.

When Lieberman studied the behaviors of sailors who consumed caffeine compared to those who had a noncaffeinated placebo, he documented a range of benefits.

“We found that in moderate doses, caffeine enhanced ability to pay attention, and it enhanced vigilance,” says Lieberman.

And caffeine also seemed to improve the exhausted sailors’ short-term memories, something Lieberman was not expecting to see. “We were surprised that caffeine had such widespread effects,” he says.

See, coffee is the perfect Ashtanga augmenter: helps with demanding physical activities while also assisting us in remembering the sequence!

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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