There’s been a lot of coffee-related news floating around the Internet lately. Most of the studies cited in news articles attempt to highlight the benefits or risks of consuming caffeine on a regular basis. Is too much harmful to our health? Can just the right amount of it significantly improve the quality of our lives as we age?
We’ve read about evidence of how drinking coffee affects blood pressure, energy, our risk of developing diabetes and even our risk of death. Most experts agree that, like many commonly consumed substances, coffee is pretty good to us in moderation. A new study out of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease now shows us evidence that drinking coffee in moderate amounts is even better for us, our brains specifically, than we originally thought.
What is mild cognitive impairment, and what does coffee have to do with it?
We have all heard of the ageing population or perhaps our own loved ones developing debilitating diseases that affect the way they think and behave. Before developing more severe conditions, however, some develop a cognitive decline called mild cognitive impairment slightly more severe than what is associated with normal ageing, but much less severe than diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Mild cognitive impairment develops as a precursor to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. According to Mayo Clinic, developing mild cognitive impairment actually increases a person’s risk of developing more severe cognitive disorders.
It turns out drinking a few daily doses of coffee can actually reduce a person’s risk of developing these mild problems related to memory, language and thinking.
How do we know? Let’s take a closer look at the evidence.
Researchers studied the relationship between average amount of coffee consumed, either changing or constant, and incidence, or occurrence, of mild cognitive impairment in 1,445 “cognitively normal” subjects aged 65-84 years.
Some participants started out consuming a low amount of coffee per day, one cup or fewer, and increased their consumption to one to two cups per day. Other participants consumed a constant amount of one to two daily cups of coffee for the duration of the study.
Results implied that participants who had a constant habit of consuming one to two cups of coffee per day, or a daily moderate amount, had a reduced risk of developing mild cognitive impairment compared to those who either increased or decreased their consumption.
What’s the science behind this relationship?
There’s a reason many of us can’t function in the morning without a cup or two of coffee pulsing through our systems. When caffeine enters our bodies, it prevents us from absorbing a certain chemical that normally blocks other excitatory brain chemicals. In much simpler terms, drinking coffee gives us more energy and has the potential to, over time in consistent, moderate amounts, slow age-related mental decline as we get older. With those excitatory brain chemicals free to roam on a regular basis, our brains will most likely remain in much better shape longer than they would if those chemicals remained blocked.
Here’s the key takeaway
The study described above found no association between high or low levels of coffee consumption and reduced risk of developing mild cognitive impairment, which means consuming only moderate amounts of coffee per day, one to two cups, had this effect. So if you’re planning to rely on coffee alone to keep your mind sharp as you age moderation, as always, is the best strategy.
Many studies have managed to show us coffee in the morning isn’t the worst possible habit to uphold. What’s important to remember is that too much of a good thing isn’t so good after all – but just the right amount, in this case, can earn you a healthier, clearer mind the older you get.
Featured photo credit: David Joyce via flickr.com