January 23, 2015
Moderate coffee consumption may be good for the brain. Those are the conclusions of a review of the evidence that found that drinking three to five cups of coffee per day may reduce Alzheimer’s risk by up to 20 percent.
Genetic factors and advancing age likely play the greatest role in who gets Alzheimer’s disease. But the results of the current study do highlight how diet and other lifestyle factors may play a contributory role in preventing or delaying the onset of dementia.
Studies have consistently shown that regular, moderate coffee drinking may be tied to a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease, with “the optimum protective effect occurring with three to five cups of coffee per day,” said Dr. Arfram Ikram, an assistant professor at Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam. He presented his findings at 2014 Alzheimer Europe Annual Congress in Glasgow.
Coffee contains caffeine, a stimulant that provides a short-term pick-me-up for the brain that may have long-term benefits as well. Coffee is also rich in antioxidant compounds called polyphenols that are thought to be good for brain health.
The report also noted that a Mediterranean-style diet, rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish (in place of red meat), heart-healthy fats like olive oil, and red wine has been shown to have brain benefits. These foods are, like coffee, rich in polyphenols. Both caffeine and polyphenols reduce inflammation and may protect brain cells in the hippocampus and other areas critical for memory.
One of the largest studies of coffee’s effects on the brain to date, conducted in 2009, found that middle-aged men and women who drank three to five cups of coffee a day were less likely to get Alzheimer’s disease in old age. That study followed 1,409 people in Finland over two decades, beginning in their 40s or 50s and concluding more than 20 years later, when they were in their 60s and 70s.
Other studies have likewise suggested that caffeine may have benefits for the brain. A 2007 study from France, for example, found that women age 65 and older who drank more than three cups of coffee, or an equivalent amount of caffeine-rich tea, scored better on tests that measure thinking and memory skills than women who drank a cup or less of coffee or tea a day. Caffeine is only one of several thousand compounds found in a cup of coffee or tea, so it is not yet known which compounds or combination of compounds are responsible for coffee’s protective effect.
Source: Neville Vassallo, Arfan Ikram, Astrid Nehlig: Nutrition and Cognitive Function, 2014 Alzheimer Europe Annual Congress, Glasgow, U.K. October 23, 2014