There is a great debate on whether or not coffee is healthy. However, there is plenty of research to back up the significant health benefits of coffee and caffeine. It is well known that coffee provides a delicious energy boost, raises the metabolic rate and is a protectant to the liver. Coffee consumption is even said to reduce the risk of cancers, mostly by supporting the metabolism.
In addition to these well-known benefits, coffee has another major positive attribute on our biology; it boosts cognitive function while reducing cognitive decline disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson's and dementia.
The Brain Benefits of Coffee
Of the many studies that have been published on the consumption of coffee consumption, the least popular are those on its cognitive promoting effects. However, if we connect the biological dots, we can start to paint a between about the relationship between coffee consumption and overall brain health.
To begin, let us look at the well-known, positive effects this magic bean has on the liver. Coffee consumption has been long associated with improved outcomes with chronic liver disease, liver cancer (HCC), liver cirrhosis, hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV), and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
These effects boil down to the fact that coffee, or specifically, caffeine has a pro metabolic quality meaning it increases the metabolic rate. This is beneficial for the simple fact that a sluggish metabolism can result in an interference in energy production and therefore inflammation, the liberation of free fatty acids and therefore decreased detoxification, cancer, fibrosis and other issues.
Also, it is known in both TCM and conventional medicine that coffee activates enzymes that detoxify the liver via activation of uridine 5’-diphosphate-glucuronosyltransferases. 1
So, by acting as a pro-metabolic, tonic to the liver, coffee consumption can keep total toxicity low, which is beneficial to the brain. The Brian is the second largest detoxification organ, so if the liver becomes burdened, that toxic load is passed onto the brain, leading to potential inflammation in the brain.
Looking at some science-backed studies, there are many related to coffee’s ability to inhibit oxidative stress and inflammation, while suppressing the excitotoxicity that causes brain-cell death and the accumulation of toxic proteins that calcify the brain.
Let us have a look...
First and foremost, there are various studies that show moderate coffee drinking, has both short and long-term benefits for brain function.
It has been found that people with the highest daily coffee consumption are 27% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, compared to those who drank less or no coffee.
Another study found that 2-4 cups of coffee per day significantly improved physical and cognitive performance on various tests.
Next, a study done with Alzheimer’s diseased mice were given regular coffee and put through evaluation. The caffeinated mice showed improved immune responses and also had less beta-amyloid, the junk protein that is associated with Alzheimer’s dementia.
On the other hand, a second study found that people who drank less than one cup of coffee per day, compared to those who drank one or two cups per day have an 18% less chance of developing the following cognitive disorders:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Impaired learning and memory
This tells us that coffee does indeed improve brain function, and also decrease the risk of cognitive decline, but in the right amount. Adhering to the old saying, too much of a good thing can be harmful.
Other Attributing Factors
In addition to the direct cognitive promoting effects of coffee, the polyphenols in coffee have other benefits, such as reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.
While most of the benefits of coffee are due to caffeine, it does contains thousands of other constituents that provide health benefits. For example, coffee is rich in chlorogenic acid, which plays a protective role against cognitive decline by preventing the death of brain cells.
Next, to inflammation and oxidative stress, a major contributing factor to cognitive decline is the phenomenon known as excitotoxicity. Excitotoxicity occurs when cells become overactive, particularly in response to the neurotransmitters serotonin and glutamate.
Under the stimulation of serotonin and glutamate, parathyroid and prolactin increase, which overload the cells with calcium and increase nitric oxide production. This triggers inflammation and the release of enzymes that eventually leads to the degeneration and death of brain cells.
Chlorogenic acid; which is rich in coffee, however, is known to protect brain cells from excitotoxicity, by preventing the influx of calcium. Additionally, chlorogenic acid breaks down into caffeic acid, which provides an even broader range of protective effects to the cells.
How Much to Drink?
According to most studies, the recommended dose of coffee for optimal antioxidant protection, and the aforementioned benefits is two to four cups of coffee per day. This will provide the anti-stress effects, which prevent damage to the brain cells.
Depending on where you look, coffee might be considered an unhealthy, drug-like carcinogen or a health-promoting, anti-aging super drink. However, with a couple of scientific studies, a decent understanding of physiology and biology, and it is clear to see that coffee is a fantastic tasting, anti-cancer, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, the cognitive enhancing beverage that can be enjoyed moderately without guilt.