Coffee – Good For Brain Health?
- Written by Brad
- June 24, 2021
There is no doubt that coffee, mostly due to the caffeine content, helps most people feel more awake and alert.
Caffeine connects to our adenosine receptors in the brain without activating them, to block the effects of adenosine, leading to reduced tiredness. Although – the more you drink, the more your receptors become desensitised .
Coffee has been widely studied for decades, and here are some interesting points to consider to decide if coffee fits into your brain-boosting arsenal.
Is Coffee a Cognitive Enhancer?
Coffee can boost alertness, concentration and short-term memory, but does not seem to help long term memory. The caffeine in coffee facilitates learning in tasks where information is presented passively, but not for tasks where material is learned intentionally . Even small amounts of coffee can improve visual reactive time and auditory vigilance .
Lower doses can ameliorate anxiety and increase feelings of wellbeing, whilst higher doses can increase anxiety and nervousness .
What Are the Proven Brain Health Benefits?
Life-long coffee consumption has been associated with the prevention of cognitive decline and can provide a reduced risk of developing stroke and neurodegenerative disease .
Coffee contains numerous components that may also contribute significantly towards its neuroprotective effects – it’s not just the caffeine, it’s also due to the rich phytochemistry of coffee including the compounds eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide, hydroxy hydroquinone, chlorogenic and caffeic acids that are present .
Caffeine has been shown to improve brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) where impairments were present .
Does Coffee Dehydrate the Brain?
Moderate coffee consumption does not cause dehydration but it does reduce cerebral blood flow by up to 30%, which is an undesirable effect, as maintaining good brain circulation is a significant benefit when boosting cognition and brain health .
Is All Coffee the Same?
It’s interesting to note, that different types of beans and their varietals, grind size, effects of roasting on bean mass, temperature, and extraction methods all affect the caffeine content of your coffee, and vary the levels of other naturally occurring compounds in the coffee .
For example, Robusta beans have roughly double the amount of caffeine as Arabica beans. A single espresso shot made with arabica beans contains an average of 30-40mg of caffeine, whilst robusta has 60-80mg.
How Much Coffee Is Okay?
There is no one right answer for this as it depends on the individual, their caffeine tolerance, their general health and stress levels, and any specific health conditions they may have. The data in studies also vary according to the type and strength of coffee consumed. Studies show 3-4 cups per day confers health benefits, but it’s about the volume and type of actual coffee, not how many ‘cups’. For example, one double-shot flat white can constitute ‘2 cups’.
Those who are sensitive to caffeine or who are experiencing chronic ‘burn out’ are more likely to feel the negative effects at a lower dose and should avoid coffee and look for other ways to increase alertness. In these cases, the health of the brain and the nervous system requires restoration rather than stimulation.
Caffeine enhances the stress axis and repeated coffee consumption over the day can increase stress hormone production, heart rate and blood pressure .
For long term coffee drinkers, taking a few days’ breaks from coffee from time to time can help ‘reset’ your adenosine receptors, so that you don’t need to drink as much to get the alertness factor .
What About Other Forms of Caffeine?
Caffeine occurring naturally in coffee, green tea, black tea and cacao is always more healthful than taking isolated caffeine added to colas, energy drinks and supplements. This is due to the presence of other compounds in those natural drinks that have antioxidant activity, to help buffer the negative effects of caffeine, so you can enjoy the brain boost whilst taking care of your health at the same time .
The Bottom Line
Coffee may have its place in the diet and brain-hack dispensary, but don’t overdo it. Moderate amounts may give you the cognitive boost you need to increase productivity, along with some neuroprotection over the lifespan.
Other healthy lifestyle measures like eating balanced meals and snacks, sleeping well, taking exercise, and staying hydrated means coffee is not used as a crutch but used purposefully as a ‘functional food’ for brain and whole-body health.
- Di Shi et al. Effects of Chronic Caffeine on Adenosine, Dopamine and Acetylcholine Systems in Mice. Arch Int Pharmacodyn Ther; 1994. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3432916/#:~:text=In%20all%20cases%2C%203%E2%80%934,days%20after%20withdrawal%20of%20caffeine.
- Astrid Nehlig. Is caffeine a cognitive enhancer? J Alzheimers Dis; 2010. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20182035/
- Lieberman et al . The effects of low doses of caffeine on human performance and mood. Psychopharmacology (Berl); 1987. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3114783/
- Yenisetti SC. Beneficial Role of Coffee and Caffeine in Neurodegenerative Diseases: A Minireview. AIMS Public Health. 2016.
- Merideth A. Addicott et al. Hum Brain Mapp; 2009. The effect of daily caffeine use on cerebral blood flow: How much caffeine can we tolerate? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2748160/
- Joseph A. Rothwell. A Metabolomic Study of the Variability of the Chemical Composition of Commonly Consumed Coffee Brews. Metabolites; 2019. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6359601/
- William R. Lovallo et al. Caffeine Stimulation of Cortisol Secretion Across the Waking Hours in Relation to Caffeine Intake Levels. Psychosom Med; 2008. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2257922/
- Alexander Yashin et al. Antioxidant and Antiradical Activity of Coffee. Antioxidants (Basel); 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4665516/