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Moderate coffee consumption may promote brain health — and it’s not because of caffeine

How Cof­fee May Pro­tect Brain Health: A New Study Sug­gests The Ben­e­fits Aren’t Just From Caf­feine (Forbes):

Cof­fee has been get­ting con­sid­er­able atten­tion for a grow­ing list of health ben­e­fits, with brain health high among them. While not with­out a few down­sides, stud­ies have shown impres­sive upsides of mod­er­ate cof­fee con­sump­tion, often linked to its high caf­feine con­tent. But a new lab study sug­gests that when it comes to brain health, cof­fee offers more than the stim­u­lat­ing effects of our favorite legal drug–in fact, decaf could be just as effec­tive

The researchers added that most like­ly it’s a com­bi­na­tion of com­pounds that pro­vides the biggest ben­e­fits from drink­ing cof­fee, but the results indi­cate that phenylindanes—present in both caf­feinat­ed and decaf cof­fee (slight­ly more in dark roasts)—could be cen­tral to its neu­ro­pro­tec­tive effects.…“What this study does is take the epi­demi­o­log­i­cal evi­dence and try to refine it and to demon­strate that there are indeed com­po­nents with­in cof­fee that are ben­e­fi­cial to ward­ing off cog­ni­tive decline,” said study co-author Dr. Ross Manci­ni. “The next step would be to inves­ti­gate how ben­e­fi­cial these com­pounds are, and whether they have the abil­i­ty to enter the blood­stream or cross the blood-brain bar­ri­er.”

The Study:

Phenylin­danes in Brewed Cof­fee Inhib­it Amy­loid-Beta and Tau Aggre­ga­tion (Fron­tiers in Neu­ro­science). From the abstract:

  • Cof­fee con­sump­tion has been cor­re­lat­ed with a decreased risk of devel­op­ing Alzheimer’s dis­ease (AD) and Parkinson’s dis­ease (PD), but the mech­a­nism by which cof­fee may pro­vide neu­ro­pro­tec­tion in humans is not ful­ly under­stood. We hypoth­e­sized that com­pounds found in brewed cof­fee may elic­it neu­ro­pro­tec­tive effects by inhibit­ing the aggre­ga­tion of amy­loid-beta (A?) and tau (AD) or ?-synu­cle­in (PD). Three instant cof­fee extracts (light roast, dark roast, decaf­feinat­ed dark roast) and six cof­fee com­po­nents [caf­feine (1), chloro­genic acid (2), quinic acid (3), caf­fe­ic acid (4), quercetin (5), and phenylin­dane (6)] were inves­ti­gat­ed for their abil­i­ty to inhib­it the fib­ril­liza­tion of A? and tau proteins…While the neu­ro­pro­tec­tive effect of cof­fee con­sump­tion is like­ly due to a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors, our data sug­gest that inhi­bi­tion A? and tau aggre­ga­tion by phenylin­dane 6 (formed dur­ing the roast­ing of cof­fee beans, high­er quan­ti­ties found in dark roast cof­fees) is a plau­si­ble mech­a­nism by which cof­fee may pro­vide neu­ro­pro­tec­tion. The iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of 6 as a dual-inhibitor of both A? and tau aggre­ga­tion is note­wor­thy, and to our knowl­edge this is the first report of the aggre­ga­tion inhi­bi­tion activ­i­ty of 6.

The Study in Context:

There is lit­tle doubt that drink­ing that morn­ing cup of cof­fee will like­ly increase alert­ness, but the main ques­tions that research is try­ing to answer go beyond that. Basi­cal­ly: is there a sus­tained, life­time, ben­e­fit or harm from drink­ing cof­fee reg­u­lar­ly?

The answer, so far, con­tains good news and bad news. The good news for cof­fee drinkers is that most of the long-term results are direc­tion­al­ly more pos­i­tive than neg­a­tive, so no clear harm seems to occur. The bad news is that it is not clear so far whether caf­feine has ben­e­fi­cial effects on gen­er­al brain func­tions, either short-term or long-term (aged-relat­ed decline or risks of demen­tia).

It is impor­tant to note that many of the stud­ies show­ing an effect of cof­fee con­sump­tion on brain func­tions or risks of demen­tia report a cor­re­la­tion or asso­ci­a­tion (they are not ran­dom­ized clin­i­cal tri­als). As you know, cor­re­la­tion doesn’t prove cau­sa­tion: cof­fee drinkers may seem to do well in a num­ber in these long-term stud­ies, but there may be oth­er rea­sons why cof­fee drinkers do bet­ter.”

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