Over half (54 percent) of American adults consume coffee each day, according to a survey by the National Coffee Association. It’s no surprise that such a popular beverage has a reputation for stirring up controversy among health experts.
But research has shown that, absent unhealthy additives, drinking a moderate amount of coffee could bestow some serious brain benefits, both short-and long-term, including:
A momentary mental jolt: One of caffeinated coffee’s most popular perks is its ability to temporarily kick start your mental processing power. The primary mechanism by which it achieves this nearly miraculous feat is by preventing adenosine—a chemical that causes sleepiness when it builds up in the brain—from binding to special receptors on your neurons (brain cells). Instead, the caffeine latches on to these receptors, leaving the adenosine with no place to accumulate. Caffeine also elevates your overall mood and amps your adrenaline.
Inflammation inhibition: Polyphenols—a powerful class of antioxidants found in fruits, Mediterranean diet foods, and plant-based beverages such as tea, juice and red wine—are also prevalent in coffee. Polyphenols are thought to aid in the prevention of osteoporosis, cancer and heart disease. The polyphenols in coffee may also help reduce inflammation in two key areas of the brain: the cortex and the hippocampus.
Protection against Alzheimer’s: Coffee may even provide a cushion against the effects of Alzheimer’s, according to new research, presented at the 2014 Alzheimer Europe Annual Conference. Adults who consistently indulge in three to five cups of joe per day (the average American drinks just over three, nine-ounce cups daily) could see as much as a 20 percent decrease in their Alzheimer’s risk, say study authors. With the aid of inflammation-reducing polyphenols, caffeine helps the brain by slowing the formation of beta amyloid plaques and tau tangles, two components that have been strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease.
Better functioning for a lifetime: A group of researchers from the National Institute on Aging found that men and women age 70 and older did better on mental functioning tests when they had caffeine.
The bottom line is that, as much as we’d like to believe otherwise, there’s no surefire way to completely shield the brain from the effects of aging and chronic disease. However, a balanced diet, paired with a cup or two of coffee, may help prime your mind for optimal health over the long run.
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