Last week we talked about the health benefits of drinking green tea. We hope we convinced you to drink green tea more often. On the other hand, if enjoy the taste of a hot cup of coffee more than a cup of green tea that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Recently, coffee has been linked with a number of health benefits including a lower risk for depression, type 2 diabetes, gall bladder disease and Parkinson’s disease. Plus, it appears that sipping on a hot cup of java may offer protection against another frightening disease – Alzheimer’s disease.
With the exception of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease is the health problem people fear most. That’s because it robs people of their ability to think and remember and makes them dependent on others. Unfortunately, there isn’t a pill you can take or a food you can eat that will guarantee you won’t get this disease later in life, but there’s growing evidence that coffee drinkers may enjoy some protection against this devastating disease.
Coffee and Brain Health: Does It Protect Against Dementia?
In a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers followed 124 people at higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease over a four year period. These people had a condition called mild cognitive impairment. This means they had memory and cognitive issues but didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease. People with mild cognitive impairment are at greater risk for developing full-blown dementia. Surprisingly, participants in this study who drank the equivalent of three cups of caffeinated coffee a day or more didn’t go on to develop Alzheimer’s disease, while a significant number of non-coffee drinkers did.
Why might drinking coffee be protective? Coffee is a good source of antioxidants including one called chlorogenic acid. We know that antioxidants help to protect cells, including brain cells against damage, but that’s not the entire story.
What’s in Coffee That’s Protective?
Studies in mice shows that something in caffeinated coffee increases levels of a growth factor called GCSF, a compound that people that improves communication between nerve cells in the brain. When you give mice GCSF, their memory improves. It doesn’t seem to be caffeine alone that increases GCSF since caffeine by itself has no effect. On the other hand, caffeine seems to play a role since decaffeinated coffee doesn’t have the same benefits. It’s possible that caffeine works in combination with some other ingredient in coffee to reduce the risk. As of yet, this “mystery ingredient” hasn’t been identified.
Another Cup of Joe?
More research is needed, but combine the possibility that coffee may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease with its other possible health benefits, and there are some good reasons to pay a visit to Starbuck’s (or Dunkin Donuts or McDonald’s if you want to save some money) Better yet, brew your own at home.
To get the benefits, you’ll need to drink three or more cups a day, and it must to be caffeinated. The average person only drinks about half this amount daily, which is not enough to offer protection based on current research. Of course, the healthiest way to drink it is with a little low-fat milk – not “frou-frou” style. Some frou-frou coffee drinks can set you back 400 or more calories. Drink three of those a day and you may not get Alzheimer’s disease, but you’ll gain weight.
Fortunately, adding milk to coffee doesn’t negate the health benefits as it does when you add it to tea, but there are lots of tasty milk substitutes available that are low in calories and sugar. Look for boxes of almond milk and coconut milk at your local grocery store. We use sugar-free almond milk that only has 40 calories a serving, and it’s a perfectly acceptable substitute for milk.
The Take-Home Message
Coffee’s not for everyone. People who have heart disease, anxiety or uncontrolled high blood pressure would do well not to overindulge in caffeinated coffee or avoid it altogether. But if you enjoy drinking coffee, there are more reasons than ever to keep doing it.
Science Daily. “Mystery Ingredient in Coffee Boosts Protection against Alzheimer’s Disease, Study Finds”
Alzheimer’s Disease. CME Learning Center