Ah, wake up and smell the coffee … and that's all you may need to do to pep up in the morning, a new study finds. An international group of scientists reports that inhaling the rich, warm aroma of a hot cup of joe may alter the activity of some genes in the brain, reducing the effects of sleep deprivation — no drinking required. Coffee has been a part of the human diet for more than 1,000 years, and is now the most widely consumed beverage worldwide. Scientists have conducted numerous studies that investigate both the beneficial and adverse effects that coffee can have on health, from the antioxidants it possesses to the possible detriments of too much caffeine. Much of coffee's lift has been attributed to its caffeine content. But "there are few studies that deal with the beneficial effects of coffee aroma," said study leader Han-Seok Seo, of the Seoul National University in South Korea. Seo and his colleagues allowed lab rats, some of which were stressed by sleep deprivation, to inhale the aroma of coffee. The researchers then compared the expression of certain genes and proteins in the rats' brains. Some of the genes expressed in the coffee-sniffing, stressed rats expressed proteins that have healthful antioxidant properties known to protect nerve cells from stress-related damage. Their stressed out counterparts who weren't allowed to smell coffee didn't show these gene expressions. Their findings are detailed in the June 25 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The study was partially funded by the Winter Institute Program of the Korea Science and Engineering Foundation and the Japan-Korea Industrial Technology Foundation. So next time you need a morning pick-me-up, all you may have to do is just walk into Starbucks and take a deep breath.
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Andrea Thompson is an associate editor at Scientific American, where she covers sustainability, energy and the environment. Prior to that, she was a senior writer covering climate science at Climate Central and a reporter and editor at Live Science, where she primarily covered Earth science and the environment. She holds a graduate degree in science health and environmental reporting from New York University, as well as a bachelor of science and and masters of science in atmospheric chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology.