Coffee as Brain Protector

Many of my blogs explore “big picture” things we can do to live more sustainably. While they’re critical to living sustainably, here’s a bite-sized research report that add considerable health benefits to our enjoyment of coffee.

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HOW Coffee Protects the Brain


Maria Cohut

Medical News Today

6 November 2018

Fact checked by Paula Field


Scientists have now proved that drinking certain types of coffee can be beneficial to brain health, but how does this popular brew support cognitive function? A new study identifies some of the mechanisms that allow coffee to keep mental decline at bay.

According to data from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, about 54 percent of all adults in the United States drink coffee on a daily basis.

While drinking coffee can bring both benefits and risks for a person’s health, a 2016 study from the University of Ulster in Coleraine, United Kingdom, concluded that the health benefits of moderate coffee consumption “clearly outweigh” the potential risks.

One of these benefits is that coffee seems to protect the brain against cognitive impairments and boost thinking skills.


How does this happen, and what is it about

coffee that is so beneficial to cognitive health?


These are some questions that a new study from the Krembil Brain Institute — part of the Krembil Research Institute in Toronto, Canada — aims to answer.


“Coffee consumption does seem to

have some correlation to a decreased

risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease

and Parkinson’s disease,”


… notes Dr. Donald Weaver, who is co-director of the Krembil Brain Institute. He adds:


“But we wanted to investigate why that is —

which compounds are involved and how they

may impact age-related cognitive decline.”


Dr. Weaver and team’s findings — published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience — suggest that the key to coffee’s brain-protecting benefits lie not in its caffeine content, but in the existence of compounds released in the process of roasting the coffee beans.



It’s all about the roasting process

In the current study, the researchers decided to look into the effects of three types of coffee: caffeinated dark roast, caffeinated light roast, and decaffeinated dark roast.


“The caffeinated and decaffeinated dark roast

both had identical potencies in our initial exper-

imental tests. So we observed early on that its

protective effect could not be due to caffeine,”


… says study co-author Dr. Ross Mancini, a research fellow in medicinal chemistry. Gradually, all the links fell into place, as the researchers started focusing on a set of compounds called phenylindanes, which form during the process of roasting coffee beans and lend coffee its bitter flavor.


It is the phenylindanes, rather than any

other coffee-related compounds, that seem

to inhibit the amalgamation of tau and

beta-amyloid. These are toxic proteins, of

which the excessive buildup in the brain is

a key factor in neurodegenerative conditions

such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.


Dr. Weaver acknowledges …


“So phenylindanes are a dual inhibitor.

Very interesting, we were not expecting that.”


It appears that a longer roasting time causes the coffee beans to produce more phenylindanes. This suggests that dark roasted coffee — whether regular or decaf — has the strongest protective effect on the brain. Dr. Mancini says …


“It’s the first time anybody’s investigated how

phenylindanes interact with the proteins that

are responsible for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”


In the future, the researchers aim to conduct more detailed investigations on the properties of phenylindanes, and their effects on the body once ingested. Dr. Mancini adds …


“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.”


‘Mother Nature is a better chemist’

For the researchers, another exciting aspect of this discovery is that coffee compounds are natural and do not require synthesis in the laboratory, which makes them less complicated to produce. Dr. Ross Mancini says:


“Mother Nature is a much better chemist

than we are and Mother Nature is able

to make these compounds. If you have a

complicated compound, it’s nicer to grow

it in a crop, harvest the crop, grind the

crop out and extract it than try to make it.”


At the same time, however, Dr. Mancini stresses that before they can add phenylindanes as a treatment option for neurodegenerative conditions, they need to conduct a lot more research on how these compounds would work in a therapeutic context. Dr. Mancini says …


“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.”


He cautions …


“It’s interesting, but are we suggesting

that coffee is a cure? Absolutely not.”

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I thought it might be fun to see that one of our commonly used food products also has some important health benefits.  Good for living sustainably in terms of health and happiness.  I’ll drink to that!

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