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Which Coffee Compounds Protect the Brain?

A combination of two coffee compounds act synergistically to protect the brain in mice. Even more compounds may be relevant for human coffee drinkers.
Photo by Padurariu Alexandru under Creative Commons 0 license (free for any use, no attribution needed) https://unsplash.com/worthyofelegance

If you, like many people, can’t face the day without a hot cup of coffee, there’s good news. Scientists at Rutgers have evidence that the combination of caffeine with a special fatty acid present in coffee can protect the brain (PNAS, Dec. 3, 2018).

Combo of Coffee Compounds Protect the Brain in Mice:

They studied mice and found that neither caffeine nor the fatty acid EHT alone had much impact (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Dec. 3, 2018). EHT stands for eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide.

On the other hand, the two ingredients combined prevented a buildup of proteins in mouse brains. These proteins are markers for both Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. Mice given this combination for six months had less brain inflammation and better neuronal integrity. They also performed better on tests such as balancing on rotating rods.

Will Coffee Compounds Protect the Brain in Humans?

The scientists caution that they will need to do more research to determine appropriate doses to help protect humans from these devastating brain diseases. Previous research has indicated that people who drink coffee regularly, in moderation, reduce their chance of developing Parkinson’s disease.

Other researchers have been studying coffee to try to figure out if the apparent benefits of this beverage are due to caffeine alone. After all, coffee is a botanical product that contains hundreds of distinctive compounds. A number of these are biologically active. In summary, they identified phenylindane, a compound that is enhanced with darker roasting, as a way to protect the brain.

Other Benefits of Drinking Coffee:

Coffee drinkers may also live longer, as an earlier study indicated. An observational study that included 167,000 female nurses and about 40,000 male health professionals found that those who drank three to five cups of coffee daily were 15 percent less likely to die during the long-term study than people who didn’t consume coffee.

The research was published in the journal Circulation (Nov. 16, 2015). The study lasted 30 years and linked both regular and decaf coffee to better survival. In particular, coffee drinkers were less likely to die of stroke, heart disease, neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and suicide.

Previous Research That Found Coffee Can Be Healthy:

Coffee drinking has been linked previously to positive health outcomes. Investigators have found that coffee drinkers have lower risks of type 2 diabetes and several cancers as well as Parkinson’s disease. Chemicals naturally found in coffee may reduce insulin resistance, control inflammation and, of course, protect the brain.

Readers Respond to the Idea That Coffee Can Be Healthy:

Several readers noted that drinking coffee can trigger heartburn or exacerbate GERD.

For instance, Carrie noted:

“I wish I could drink coffee, but it gives me heartburn every time, and I have GERD. I’m unable to take prescription meds for heartburn, so it looks as though coffee isn’t an option for me. Neither is mint, citrus, chocolate, or tomato dishes. Looks like those of us with GERD are out of luck.”

Other readers became addicted to caffeinated coffee.

Joe in Florida wrote:

“From my experience, I drank 4-5 cups of coffee each day. As a result, I became addicted to caffeine. When I did not drink coffee on a particular day (like while camping or visiting my in-laws who did not drink coffee) I would develop a TERRIBLE headache. I would have to retreat to a dark bedroom for several hours until the pain passed.

“My condition went away when I experienced an heart attack. After spending a couple of days in intensive care without coffee, I found I was not addicted to caffeine anymore. The headaches went away when I did not drink coffee. At the recommendation of my cardiologist, I now drink ONE cup per day.”

Deborah agreed:

“It’s important to drink really good, fair trade coffee, dark roasted locally, and a variety that’s low in acidity. I drink it black, which allows me to appreciate the uniqueness of varieties from around the word, and take pleasure in sipping it, as I do fine wines.

“I too was addicted — but then I was drinking the kind of coffee made in offices and restaurants and drinking it all through the day. Now that I’ve given that up, I’ve cut back to one full mug of fair-trade coffee every morning, which I prepare in a French press, drink black and savor every drop. It is so satisfying that office-made coffee is totally unappealing to me now, and I get through my days and evenings without headaches.”

Treat Yourself or a Loved One to a Marvelous People’s Pharmacy Mug:

If you would like to sip your coffee from a lovely mug, consider our new People’s Pharmacy logo mug. It holds 12 ounces of your favorite brew. We are offering it now with two tubes of Udderly Smooth Extra Care 20 cream to protect your hands from winter weather and six tubes of People’s Pharmacy all-natural lip care. You can stuff a lot of Christmas stockings with six tubes and still have one or two left to keep your own lips comfortable. Here’s the link to this special Holiday Gift Bundle.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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Many sources cite research indicating that the use of milk or cream in tea decreases the nutritional benefits of tea. Is it the same for coffee?

Fair trade does not have anything to do with organic. It has to do with fair wages and working conditions. And I read that headaches are from the toxins in non-organic coffee. Full of toxins your body has to eliminate. Your body is not fighting off the caffeine so much as the toxins.

Does the extra benefit someone associates with “fair trade” coffee have to do with the psychosomatic effect of correct thinking and acting in our nutritional approach to good health? That’s fascinating.

Note for ‘Carrie’ RE/Gerd;Have you tried Aloe Juice? I always keep a container of it handy in frig.I’ve used it for years to soothe hiatal hernia ‘flare-ups’ and entire GI tract.

finding I cannot drink coffee anymore because of the chicory root, inulin.
it constipates me. the plus was it helped me breathe from asthma.
am wondering about tea compounds now.

What about the acrylamide in coffee I’m hearing so much about?

Coffee drinkers do NOT become addicted to caffeine in the medical sense. Many, especially those who consume 4-5 cup a day, will suffer “withdrawal” symptoms when not getting their usual caffeine fix. The headache and other symptoms are hardly in a league with those suffered from withdrawal from *true* addiction. Further, the headache rarely lasts for more than one day, and the sufferer is not compelled to seek out his next fix at any cost.

Indeed, as others have reported, you can escape withdrawal symptoms by either maintaining abstinence after the first day, or by returning to a moderate 1 or 2 cups of coffee each day.

I, too, enjoy full-bodied darker roasted beans, which I grind fresh for my daily 2 mugs. However, being “fair-traded” has nothing whatsoever to do with the caffeine or other compounds present in the finished brew. And pre-ground store bought coffee may be just as beneficial, it just doesn’t taste as good — not by a long shot.

I found I also get a headache if I do not drink any coffee. However, one cup relieves it immediately.

I used to put a sprinkling of a packet called PRELIEF in my coffee
because I did not like the acidic taste. I saw it at Whole Foods by
the checkout counter. When I ran out I started using a dash of
baking soda instead, it works well for me. When using too much
of a sprinkle, the coffee loses its taste, so experiment with a small
cup for starters. I also found that the darker roasts are less acidic
and easier on the stomach. My favorites are Peet’s organic Alma
de la Terra (organic) $$, or Target whole bean Ethiopian Yergacheffe for strong flavor and taste. Use less coffee or more
water for Peet’s. A no no for most people on diets,I use organic liquid whipping cream, yum! since I cannot stomach milk. BTW, I don’t know if they still make Prelief, it was also recommended to
sprinkle on pizza and tomatosauce foods.

I was having heart burn after morning coffee and have switched to decaffeinated coffee and tea and it has eliminated the morning heart bun.

Does it matter if one drinks instant coffee?

I drink 1/2 decaf. I was addicted to the caffeine at one time and would get the headaches if I didn’t get my “fix”…. I realized what was going on and switched to 1/2 decaf and now can skip days if need be. I also drink it black. Don’t like to add any extra calories or other chemicals to it. Occasionally I will add a high quality Mexican hot chocolate mix to it….like the chocolate with a touch of heat….

A question about the benefits of coffee: does that also fully apply to ground decaffeinated coffee, one cup a day?

Many thanks for letting me know.

I also have GERD (very bad) and someone told me to try a pinch of Bob’s Red Hill pure baking soda in my cup of coffee. The results were great. Bob’s Red Mill soda is very fine and dissolves fast. I found it at my local grocery store.

I too suffer from GERD but I drink low acid coffee and if I feel acidic response I take a tums and am immediately better. I cannot give up my coffee. I used to drink a great deal of coffee and would get headaches if I stopped but drinking a large mug at breakfast solved all my issues as it is not enough caffeine to cause addiction.

Gonderma induced coffee is found to help with allergies and constipation. My wife and my son are beneficiaries of that coffee.

I drink oolong tea four days a week, and coffee 3 days a week. Sometimes I mix green tea with the oolong, and hot chocolate with the coffee.

My mother had always loved her morning cup or two of coffee. It was the type with caffeine. But later in life she came down with Parkinson’s. So the coffee did not protect her at all. She also had breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy in her 50’s.

Regarding coffee for people with Gerds, I cold-brew my coffee. I’ve read that it’s the hot water that releases the acid, and the cold brew works for me. Very easy to do, 3 cups water in a quart jar with 3 oz of coffee ground for cold-brew, shake it, let sit 12 to 24 hours, then strain through a paper filter and store in the frig. For hot coffee I mix it with an equal amount of filtered water and heat in the microwave.

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