Coffee: Either you love it, hate it, or can’t live without it. Coffee is more than a drink—it’s a ritual. For those who reach for a cup—or more—every morning, reports of potential health detriments of coffee are met with disdain and distrust. But a study that says coffee protects against disease or makes you live longer? We’ll buy that no questions asked.
Any study making enticing claims should be looked at with a critical eye, but the pro-joe studies do seem to be piling up.
A recent study found that a compound in coffee, when combined with the drink’s caffeine boost, may keep people from developing dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
Lead author of the Rutgers University study, M. Maral Mouradian, noted that while caffeine has usually taken the credit for the benefits of coffee (read more about them here), there are more than a thousand compounds in coffee, the effects of which are not well known.
One compound, called EHT (Eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide), was able to protect mice against the abnormal protein accumulation associated both with Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia. EHT is found in the waxy coating of many types of coffee beans.
Researchers gave mice either small doses of caffeine, small doses of EHT, or both substances together. The additives were mixed in the mice’s food each day for six months. The mice were then given tests to evaluate their motor, learning, and memory skills.
The compounds were not effective when administered separately, but when given together the mice had higher test scores. When the researchers examined the mice’s brains, they found that the EHT and caffeine combination had helped protect the brain from harmful protein accumulation as well as from inflammation. The EHT and caffeine found in coffee could potentially slow or stop Parkinson’s or Lewy body dementia by protecting against brain degeneration.
Further research is needed to see what the right ratio of EHT and caffeine would be to provide the same protective effect in humans.
Another study on 124 adults in Florida between ages 65 and 88 also found that coffee could reduce the risk of dementia, especially for those who already have mild cognitive impairment. However, it wasn’t clear if the benefit came from coffee specifically or caffeine alone.
The Alzheimer’s Society warns that more research is needed before confirming that coffee or caffeine can protect against dementia or other brain diseases. “These studies might only be quite small or only apply to a specific group of people, but the media attention they receive can often overstate their impact,” the society says.
It’s tempting, for those with a firmly established coffee habit, to up their coffee quotient “just in case.” But moderation is still key as too much coffee can contribute to acid reflux, heart burn, anxiety, and even osteoporosis. Caffeine can also raise blood sugar. And there’s also that little issue of addiction…
So embrace the joe! It very well may be good for you, as long as you don’t go overboard.
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.