Can Drinking Coffee Keep Your Brain Sharp as You Age?


A new study finds that your daily jolt of joe might have a positive impact on your brain. Reporting in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, an Italian research team noted that caffeine may help reduce damage from proteins in the brain that are linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

The study is more good news for coffee drinkers who hope to fend off cognitive decline as they age. However, the possible protective effect appears to extend only to those who keep caffeine intake at a moderate level.

Coffee and brain health
The Italian study found that moderate intake of caffeine also might increase insulin sensitivity, reducing the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, WebMD reports. With diabetes long linked to an increased risk of memory problems, reduced insulin sensitivity also could benefit the brain, researchers noted.
The study, which included more than 1,400 Italian seniors, identified links between coffee consumption patterns and the risk of mild cognitive impairment, which the researchers defined as reductions in thinking and memory that can signal dementia. Researchers found that study participants who normally drank one or two cups of coffee daily showed a lower rate of cognitive impairment than did rare coffee drinkers. However, the positive effect didn’t extend to people who drank more than two cups of coffee each day.

Prior studies reinforce findings
Researchers in the Italian study noted that the new study did not show that coffee caused the decline in cognitive impairment. However, past research has suggested that mental health and coffee intake may be linked.
The New York Times reports that a number of recent studies have demonstrated notable health impacts — including reduced mortality — for coffee drinkers. In addition, research has shown that moderate coffee drinkers may see a reduction in risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and some types of cancers.

And animal experiments have demonstrated that caffeine might help protect people from dementia, the Times noted. One study of seniors with mild cognitive impairment found that the condition was more likely to advance in individuals with little or no caffeine in their bloodstreams.

Using caffeine safely
While millions of people enjoy a caffeine boost every day, the substance can cause undesirable side effects when it’s consumed in excess. Daily consumption of up to 400 milligrams — the amount in about four cups of brewed coffee — appears to be safe for most adults, notes Mayo Clinic.

Beyond that safe level, caffeine can cause irritability, insomnia, muscle tremors and other negative health outcomes. For some particularly sensitive people, even a little is too much and can cause sleep problems and restlessness.

Medications including some antibiotics, along with the herbal supplement echinacea, also can interfere with caffeine and may intensify its effects. If you’re considering increasing your caffeine intake, consult your doctor.

Coffee: Promising brain elixir?
Research into the effects of coffee and caffeine continues to show promise. However, additional study is needed to lend credence to a possible link between coffee and reduced risk for dementia. The Italian research team notes that larger studies may lead to new ways of staving off dementia with diet.