Coffee May Protect the Brain

Seniors drinking coffeeWe all know that sharp, awake and focused feeling coffee gives you. Within fifteen minutes of drinking a cup of coffee, blood pressure increases, on average, by ten to fifteen percent and after another fifteen minutes, the brain feels more alert and active. Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant that, when consumed in moderation, can modulate neurotransmitters in the brain, allowing them to relay messages more efficiently. In the moment, coffee will increase focus and alertness but in the long-term, it may even protect against mild cognitive impairment.

Researchers from the University of Bari Aldo Moro in Italy have found that drinking a consistent and moderate amount of coffee has neuroprotective benefits. The study evaluated 1,445 people aged 65 to 84 years old who are currently a part of the Italian Longitudinal Study on Aging, a population-based study of common chronic conditions and their risk factors. From this data, they examined the relationship between coffee and mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which is known to be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

The study found that participants who habitually consumed moderate amounts of coffee (1 or 2 cups of coffee a day) had a reduced rate of MCI compared to those who never or rarely consumed coffee. It also found that participants who changed habits to increase their consumption of coffee to more than one cup per day had double the rate of MCI as individuals who reduced their coffee intake to one or less cups per day. The group that increased their coffee consumption over time also had one and a half times higher rate of MCI than people who consistently had one cup per day. These results show that coffee may be beneficial to a healthy brain, but only when consumed in steady and moderate amounts.

This study adds to a growing body of research on the brain-boosting benefits of moderate, consistent coffee intake. Scientists have yet to confirm exactly how caffeine works to protect the brain and prevent cognitive decline, though the researchers in this study had a few hypotheses.

One potential mechanism includes the over or under activation of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that competes with caffeine. Another hypothesis suggests that caffeine may prevent cognitive decline by reducing neuroinflammation. Neuroimaging and further research will help scientists explain the specific mechanisms caffeine uses to protect the brain. Until then, enjoy your daily morning cup of coffee but make sure to limit it to one cup!