Coffee’s Effects on the Brain
The effects of coffee and caffeine on the brain begin with that morning cup of joe, perking up the mind and supplying energy to kick start the day. Caffeine is a stimulant and also known as an adenosine receptor antagonist, ultimately working to block adenosine. Though the physiology of adenosine is intricate, it simply works to induce sleepiness. Caffeine essentially wedges itself into the receptor sites of adenosine, subsequently inhibiting feelings of tiredness and boosting mental alertness, attention, and concentration. Additionally, caffeine is suggested to maintain a higher concentrations of dopamine, known as the “feel good hormone,” and activates the reward and pleasure centers of the brain.
How Coffee Can Save Your Brain
But coffee’s effects on the brain do not stop after the morning pot is brewed and consumed, as pouring evidence suggests coffee consumption may benefit the following health conditions and scenarios:
Protects Against Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and the only disease listed on the World Health Organization’s top 10 causes of death that cannot be cured. Alzheimer’s is progressive and irreversible, impairs brain function, compromises the ability to think rationally and clearly, and slowly affects cognition and memory. Despite what is still left to be known about the disease and until more successful treatments are offered, midlife coffee drinkers may lower the risks of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later on in life. In fact, researchers found people who drank three to five cups daily decreased their risk by 65 percent, leading to potential and more solidified preventative measures.
Researchers speculate the health benefits of coffee may be related to caffeine, as the compound may lower the activation of adenosine A2A receptors (A2ARs). Deactivation of these receptors may reduce damage caused by beta-amyloid, a protein fragment shown to build up in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease. The accumulation of beta-amyloid mostly interferes with the communication of nerve cells and may compromise cognitive processes.
Conversely, some researchers speculate the benefits are not so much related to caffeine, but rather the antioxidant properties of coffee that reduce inflammation and protect the body from age-related and chronic diseases. Nonetheless, coffee has shown to improve memory and cognition amongst its devoted users.
Reduces Parkinson’s Disease Risk
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that affects neurons (nerve cells), in the area of the brain known as substantia nigra. Some of the dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical not only beneficial in the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, but necessary to send messages that control coordination and movement. As PD progresses, a loss of dopamine causes motor symptoms involving movement, coordination, and mobility. Though the cause of PD is unknown at this time, researchers point to genetic and environmental factors. But standing as a glimmer of hope, a study published in Geriatrics & Gerontology International found a decreased PD risk with tea and caffeine consumption, whereas the strength of protection reached a maximum at approximately three cups per day for coffee consumption overall.
Safeguards from Depression
Depression is a common but serious mood disorder, potentially impeding on the way we feel, think, and handle situations. Risk factors of depression include a personal or family history of depression, major life changes and stressors, and some physical illnesses and medications. While coffee cannot singlehandedly turn back the hands of time and interject in such genetic and environmental influences, a meta-analysis published in Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry quantitatively concluded coffee and caffeine consumption were significantly associated with a decreased risk of depression.
Improves Physical Performance
Data reported in Limits of Human Endurance implies caffeine can improve exercise performance when ingested at moderated amounts. The performance enhancing effect relates to the interactions of adenosine and dopamine in the brain, which may explain the roles of motivation, attention, and vigilance during exercise. Ultimately, exercise is key in promoting brain and overall health, and coffee may just be the synergist to encourage workouts.
So, Should You Be Drinking Coffee?
Well, if you are apart of the 83 percent of the U.S. adult population, you are already drinking it. While the benefits of drinking coffee are compelling, there are a few considerations to note. First off, most of the researched benefits relate to moderated coffee intake. Going back to the benefit of coffee on physical performance, researchers found three to six milligrams per kilogram of body mass to be the effective range. To put this into perspective, this amounts to approximately 200 to 400 milligrams of coffee daily based on someone weighing 150 pounds. And with one, 8-ounce cup of coffee supplying approximately 100 milligrams of caffeine, this translates to an average of two to four cups per day.
Additionally, while research does indicate coffee consumption may lower the risk of mild cognitive impairment, the protective effect may depend on current coffee habits. A report analyzing a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease found cognitively normal participants who increased coffee consumption to more than one cup daily are twice as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI) compared to those who reduced coffee consumption to less than one cup a day. But those who consistently drank a moderate amount of coffee, or one or two cups daily, were at a lower risk of MCI compared with those who never or rarely consumed coffee. No significant link was found between coffee consumption and MCI incidence among participants who consistently drank higher amounts of coffee, or two or more cups daily, compared with participants who never or rarely drank coffee. The data mostly suggests if you are drinking the cup of joe, try to keep coffee consumption moderated and consistent. So if you are not already drinking coffee, you may not have a reason to join the 83 percent of coffee drinkers.
Although mostly based on tolerance, some individuals experience adverse side effects of coffee consumption, including anxiety, jitters, heart palpitations and sleep problems. Ultimately, some people are sensitive to caffeine, while others can drink many cups per day without any negative consequences. Despite its toleration or not, children, adolescents, and pregnant and lactating women are advised to limit or avoid caffeine consumption. Nonetheless, coffee can provide many impressive benefits for the brain and overall health for people who tolerate it and require that morning cup of joe!