Let Coffee Make You Brilliant

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Let Coffee Make You Brilliant about undefined
If you’re a fan of caffeine like me, you’re well aware of its power to enhance cognition. It obviously gives you energy, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Beyond all the get-up-and-go, I find the great ideas come fast and furious. At least I think they’re great at the time. And most of them still seem pretty good later, when I take a more sober look. The benefits to my brain are not all in my head, so to speak. Keep reading and I’ll prove the medicinal qualities of my favorite beverage… Scientists have long studied the other potential health benefits of your daily cup of joe. Coffee consumption has been shown to decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes and liver disease, to name just a couple of its gifts. In fact, we explored the longevity and disease-fighting benefits in a past issue of our sister publication, Aging Defeated. While coffee contains other beneficial nutrients, research has found that most of coffee’s specific brain health benefits come from its high caffeine content. The reason why you get a mental boost from caffeine is because it tricks the brain. It’s not only a stimulant, but also runs interference against a neurotransmitter named adenosine, which makes you sleepy.1 Meaning, caffeine not only stimulates the central nervous system, but helps you feel alert because it prevents adenosine from slowing you down. Previous studies2 have proved that caffeine may improve various aspects of brain functioning including mood, focus and reaction time. Other research points to caffeine’s ability to enhance short term memory.3 Because caffeine is the star ingredient, you might be able to get most of the brain benefits from tea, if that’s your preferred caffeinated drink. But you won’t be able to get all of them, because certain additional compounds found in coffee beans may be your brain’s best friend…

Beyond Caffeine

Last year, researchers at the University of Toronto decided to investigate further. Dr. Donald Weaver, the lead study author, explained the motivation behind the 2018 study.5 “We wanted to investigate which compounds {in coffee} are involved and how they impact age-related cognitive decline,” Dr. Weaver wrote. To crack the code, researchers evaluated several compounds, including caffeine, that are released during the coffee roasting process. They used three types of instant coffee extracts: caffeinated dark roast and light roast and decaffeinated dark roast. The scientists focused on how compounds found in coffee beans interact with amyloid beta and tau, the proteins linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. They knew from previous studies that coffee compounds may offer a neuroprotective effect by blocking these proteins from forming the clumps and tangles that are found in the brains of many people with Alzheimer’s. Ultimately, the researchers isolated a particular set of compounds known as phenylindanes, that inhibited both amyloid beta and tau. Interestingly, this same powerful combo is also present in decaf coffee. Whether or not it’s the caffeine, or something else, or the combination of all of the compounds, scientists have discovered in past studies that coffee consumption correlates with a lower risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.4 Still, researchers are hesitant to frame coffee as a cure all for these diseases. Dr. Weaver noted that this study was conducted outside the body; the next step is to determine if the same results turn up in human subjects. “What this study does is take the epidemiological evidence and try to refine it and demonstrate that there are indeed components within coffee that are beneficial to warding off cognitive decline,” said Dr. Weaver.

Coffee and Parkinson’s Disease

Like Alzheimer’s, there is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease, which affects movement and often includes tremors. Studies show that drinking coffee and tea may help prevent this disease. In one large review study6, researchers reported a 29% lower risk in those people who drank three cups of coffee daily. Interestingly, benefits did not increase in those people who downed five cups of coffee daily. So, more is not necessarily better in this case.

To Bean or not to Bean: Should You Drink Coffee?

Are you a diehard coffee drinker? If so, you’re not alone, considering that 500 billion cups are consumed every year! Rich with antioxidants and bioactive compounds, coffee does offer some impressive brain health benefits. I even came across a study7 that suggests you can power up your brain by just smelling coffee. That’s right, researchers found that sleep-deprived rats that simply sniffed coffee had genes activated in their brains that eased stress! (A human study would be needed to confirm this for sure.) But drinking pots and pots of coffee won’t do your health any favors. People vary widely in how sensitive they are to caffeine, but for most of us, if we drink too much, it can lead to the jitters and sleep problems. It can cause anxiety and heart palpitations, too. Caffeine lingers in the body, too – much longer than people think. If you’re sleepless at 3 AM it could easily be because you had five cups of coffee the morning before. Two or three cups a day seems to be the sweet spot for most people. If you do that, and can tolerate it well, you’re doing your brain a favor and even adding years to your life.

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