Coffee - Our Beloved Drink Part III

Coffee - Our Beloved Drink Part III

May 23, 2013 0 Comments

For our next discussion of the mighty bean we will be honing in on coffee’s positive effects on mental health. Coffee’s neuroprotective effects over time, include: improved memory, alertness, attention, and overall mood. These translate into reduced risks of degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia. Prospective studies have found that coffee drinkers can lower their risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia by up to 65%. The risk of Parkinson’s, the second most common neurodegenerative disease, can also be lowered by 32-60%. However, coffee is certainly no magic bullet, and all the positive benefits were realized by subjects who otherwise had a healthy lifestyle and did not smoke.

Cognitive Performance

Moderate coffee consumption could provide neurological benefits through its anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative effects. We have already seen how the polyphenols found in coffee counteract and prevent the oxidative damage caused by free-radicals. Research has found that some of the polyphenolic components of coffee provide protective health benefits, even improving behaviour over time by acting on neuron survival signalling in ageing brains.

Coffee and caffeine’s effects on the brain have been extensively studied.  Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed psychoactive substances in world and a known stimulant.  By blocking the negative effects of the neurotransmitter adenosine, caffeine boosts the release of beneficial neurotransmitters and can increase the neuronal firing in the brain. Adenosine and its receptors are linked to cognitive performance, regulation of sleep, anxiety and memory.  Adenosine receptors have been observed to reduce the rate of neuronal firing in the central nervous system. Therefore, by blocking these receptors, caffeine can promoted improved cognitive effects such as better reaction time, memory, mood and overall cognitive function.

While these may seem to be short-term effects, the vast majority of the studies used for this review observed these neuroprotective benefits as a result of long-term habitual use of coffee, rather than short-term intake. Most studies reported benefits with the consumption of about 3-4 cups per day, however this could vary depending on the bean and roast type. Also, many of the benefits to mental health are not due to caffeine alone, as performance improvements were observed through the use of decaffeinated coffee.

Alzheimer’s and Dementia

As mentioned earlier, many studies observe coffee consumption to be particularly effective as a normalizer of cognitive performance. In animal studies, caffeine was shown to protect the brain from cognitive decline by suppressing various substances. There has also been actual memory improvement observed in rats consuming caffeine, however these findings haven’t been transferred over to humans. However, the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia study, found coffee and tea consumption to reduce the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s by about 65% later in life. Finnish studies have observed associations between higher rates of coffee consumption and lower rates of verbal and memory decline. Caffeine was found to help other factors thought to affect memory performance later in life, including chronic stress, diabetes, even attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. This is part of the reason why researchers are increasingly calling coffee and caffeine cognitive normalizers instead of cognitive enhancers.


Various case-control studies strongly suggest that coffee consumption can also protect against Parkinson’s, which is a degenerative disease of the central nervous system. Results of a review of the Health Professionals’ Follow-Up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study, find a general correlation with consumption of coffee and lower incidence of the disease. The Honolulu Heart Program also finds higher coffee intake associated with significantly lower incidences of Parkinson’s, but argues the effects are due to the effects of caffeine on the central nervous system over time, and not particularly with any of the bioactive substances found in coffee.

Bottom line: Coffee has been observed to reduce overall cognitive decline in both men and women through a multitude of studies. In other words, while it does not necessarily make people smarter, it reduces the rate at which peoples’ cognitive functions deteriorate as they age. Many studies tout the normalizing effects of coffee consumption on memory, mainly through its preventive (read: antioxidant) benefits.


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