Here's What Coffee Does to Your Brain

July 30th 2015

Laura Donovan

Coffee does more than just wake us up to jumpstart our day. It can knock out a debilitating two-day migraine, and according to a new study in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, moderate coffee consumption might also help prevent dementia and cognitive impairment.

Evaluating more than 1,400 individuals ages 65 to 84, the research found older, cognitively normal people who habitually consumed a moderate amount of coffee (one to two cups a day) were less likely to experience mild cognitive impairment (MCI) than people who consumed little to no coffee. Older cognitively normal people who increased their coffee drinking to more than a cup a day, however, were more likely to experience MCI compared to those who reduced their intake or maintained constant consumption habits.

"Moderate and regular coffee consumption may have neuroprotective effects… against MCI, confirming previous studies on the long-term protective effects of coffee, tea, or caffeine consumption and plasma levels of caffeine against cognitive decline and dementia,” researchers Vincenzo Solfrizzi and Francesco Panza explained in the journal.

This is one of many pieces of research to highlight potential benefits of coffee. Earlier this year, researchers found that coffee drinkers who consume 3 to 5 cups per day were at a lower risk of having clogged arteries than non-coffee drinkers. The academics came to this conclusion after looking at more than 25,000 people with no signs of heart disease.

Jared Reis, an epidemiologist at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Maryland, did not work on the study, but said in an interview with LiveScience that he didn't "see any reason why the results wouldn’t be generalizable to other populations."

Two years ago, researchers looked at more than 30 research papers that studied more than 1 million people and concluded people who drink 3-5 cups a day had the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease. Folks who consume more than five cups daily were not at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease than those who drank less coffee. Of course, this is true for black coffee and not coffee with added sugar or cream, which according to the American Heart Association, can increase your risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

A previous study from researchers at the University of South Florida and the University of Miami found that coffee can help you avoid Alzheimer's if you're over 65.

The study observed the memory and thinking processes of people 65 and older and reported that those with higher blood caffeine levels were less likely to have Alzheimer's a few years later.

The study participants mostly or solely consumed coffee as their caffeine source. This may not seem relevant to you if you're not that old yet, but these coffee drinking habits may be good for young people as well. Lead author Dr. Chuanhai Cao said that "moderate daily caffeine/coffee intake throughout adulthood" may help fight Alzheimer's down the road.

"These intriguing results suggest that older adults with mild memory impairment who drink moderate levels of coffee -- about 3 cups a day -- will not convert to Alzheimer's disease -- or at least will experience a substantial delay before converting to Alzheimer's," Dr. Cao told Science Daily. "The results from this study, along with our earlier studies in Alzheimer's mice, are very consistent in indicating that moderate daily caffeine/coffee intake throughout adulthood should appreciably protect against Alzheimer's disease later in life."