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Caffeine Brain

April 18, 2012 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

For the next few moments, I’d like you to conjure up an image of what you think caffeine does to the brain. Did you come up with negative or positive imagery? When I think of caffeinated beverages such as coffee, hot cocoa or tea, I associate them with the promotion of brain health. I know this goes against the common stereotype of caffeine as overly stimulating. However, modern science is starting to show a consistently positive trend in trials investigating the role of caffeine consumption and neuroprotection.

A recent review by the Mid-America Heart Institute at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri reports that, compared to nondrinkers, “coffee drinkers may be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, stroke, depression, death from any cause, and neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s”. That summary was published in November 2011. Since then, a number of additional publications have appeared that further support these still controversial assertions.

Arguably, the strongest case for the utility of caffeine in neurodegenerative diseases can be found in research relating to Parkinson’s disease (PD). A current examination in the American Journal of Epidemiology reveals that men and women who drink the largest amount of coffee are 25% and 40% less likely to develop PD than nondrinkers. According to a Japanese analysis from July 2011, tea drinkers may be afforded even greater protection of up to 48%. In addition, a recent placebo-controlled, pilot study determined that caffeine supplementation “may improve some motor and nonmotor aspects of PD”. A daily dosage of 400 mg/day was found most effective and relatively well tolerated. However, some participants in the trial reported dose-dependent adverse reactions including anxiety, gastrointestinal discomfort and emerging/worsening tremors. This appears to be similar to the real world experience that most people find with caffeine – some tolerate it well, while others are more sensitive to higher dosages ≥200 mg/day.

The March 2012 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease is the latest to draw a link between higher caffeine levels in the blood and a lower risk of dementia and progression to dementia in those with mild cognitive impairment. In this particular examination, coffee was the predominant source of caffeine in the participants’ diets. Previous experiments in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease have concluded that chronic coffee ingestion improves antioxidant status in the brain and cognitive functioning. But, green and white tea may also serve as a good source of caffeine and other phytochemicals which preserve healthier brain function by inhibiting the breakdown of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter vital for learning and memory. This is a similar mechanism employed by many conventional drugs used to manage dementia.

Presently, scientists are also examining the correlation between coffee and tea intake and decreased incidence of a brain cancer known as adult glioma and clinical depression. Prestigious centers of learning, including the Harvard and Yale Schools of Public Health, are on the case. Thus far, their preliminary findings appear to be quite promising for all those who enjoy a daily cup or more of coffee and/or tea. Further research is being called for and will likely continue in the foreseeable future based on the ongoing popularity of these caffeinated beverages. I think this should be viewed as a very positive development and trend, indeed.

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 - Cuppa Joe: Friend or Foe? Effects of Chronic Coffee Consumption on … (link)

Study 2 - Caffeine Intake, Smoking, and Risk of Parkinson Disease in Men and (link)

Study 3 - Intake of Japanese and Chinese Teas Reduces Risk of Parkinson’s (link)

Study 4 - Caffeine in Parkinson’s Disease: A Pilot Open-Label, Dose-(link)

Study 5 - High Blood Caffeine Levels in MCI Linked to Lack of Progression (link)

Study 6 – Chronic Coffee and Caffeine Ingestion Effects on the Cognitive (link)

Study 7 - Caffeine Synergizes with Another Coffee Component to Increase (link)

Study 8 - Inhibition of Acetylcholinesterase by Green and White Tea and Their (link)

Study 9 - Coffee, Tea, Soda, and Caffeine Intake in Relation to Risk of Adult (link)

Study 10 – Coffee, Caffeine, and Risk of Depression Among Women (link)

Caffeine Intake May Reduce the Risk of Brain Cancer

Source: Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov;92(5):1145-50. (link)

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12 Comments to “Caffeine Brain”

  1. Iggy Dalrymple Says:

    I recently had to drive all night.
    Two jiggers of 5 Hour Energy did the job.

  2. JP Says:

    Hi Iggy.

    I see that product everywhere, but have yet to try it. Coffee and/or green tea do the trick for me. Also, keeping the car windows open while driving at night helps! ;)

    Be well and drive safe!

    JP

  3. kristi Says:

    Great article!

    I would be very careful, Iggy about the 5 Hour Energy intake! I work in a cardiac unit and we had a patient who made a cross country drive – drinking multiple 5 Hour Energies – he ended up in ED with chest pain and a trip to the cath lab to put a stent in his heart.

  4. JP Says:

    More isn’t always a good thing. Thank you for the reminder and warning, Kristi!

    Be well!

    JP

  5. Mary Brighton Says:

    I agree with Kristi. These high energy drinks can be dangerous especially in kids/teenagers. These energy drinks can contain super high doses of caffeine plus other herbs and additives. I had two parents contact me whose teenagers died after drinking high energy drinks. (I wrote an article on the subject). In high doses (2 or more) they can cause havoc with the heart.

    A good general rule for caffeine is as JP says, in moderation. Personally, I just returned from a short trip to Italy…drank amazing coffee/espresso…strong and full of caffeine. I feel quite mentally alert since returning (LOL)!

  6. Mia B. Says:

    Three cheers to the “Cup o’Joe”~!
    …Hope to enjoy one with you soon, Jp ;)

  7. Mia B. Says:

    Three cheers to the “Cup o’ Joe”~!
    …Hope to enjoy one with you soon, Jp ;)

  8. JP Says:

    Thank you for relaying that important and timely information, Mary. I’ve tracked down your blog on the subject and will post it below:

    http://brightonyourhealth.com/health-tips-infant-child/teens-may-get-more-than-a-boost-after-drinking-high-energy-drinks

    Be well!

    JP

  9. JP Says:

    Cin cin, Mia B! :)

    Be well!

    JP

  10. Rob Says:

    Whats the deal with all the hype behind Green Bean coffee

  11. JP Says:

    Hi Rob,

    I think there’s some value to be found in green bean coffee extract. Some of the weight loss claims are *probably* exaggerated IMO. But, overall I believe it’s likely health promoting.

    http://www.healthyfellow.com/889/green-coffee-extract/

    Be well!

    JP

  12. Mary Brighton Says:

    JP, Thanks for the link to my article on high energy drinks. It is an important subject, especially to parents who have lost their children due to ingestion of high energy drinks.

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