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Coffee: The Magic Elixir That Protects Your Brain

Don’t underestimate the power of coffee. Delicious and bitter, with enough caffeine to help us power through early mornings or late nights, it’s no surprise that over eight in ten Americans sip it on a daily basis.1 But it turns out that the drink is good for a lot more than a morning of clarity.

In fact, for regular drinkers, coffee might be key to clear thinking and strong cognition later in life. A new study from Finland shows that men and women who drink three to five cups of the strong brew daily through their forties and fifties had serious benefits later in life. In fact, these heavy coffee drinkers were two thirds less likely to develop Alzheimer’s twenty years later.2

This might sound hard to believe – but the evidence is starting to stack up in favor of java. And the way it works is even more incredible: instead of simply targeting cognitive decline directly, it attacks the root causes. Because many of these causes – e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure, or elevated cholesterol – are also health risks in their own right, coffee drinkers reap more than just cognitive benefits.

What Coffee Does for Your Brain & Body

Though coffee is most commonly associated with caffeine, there are a number of other, less well known but possibly more important health benefits. Coffee goes to work for your health in a couple of ways. First, coffee has anti-inflammatory effects. While most of us are think of aspirin or ibuprofen as anti-inflammatories, coffee falls into this powerful category as well. This means that the brew can decrease risks for depression, stroke, and diabetes – all contributors to dementia.3

A Nurses’ Health Study shows just how effective coffee can be. Risk of stroke was reduced between twenty and forty percent among women who drink two to three cups of coffee per day.4 Type II diabetes (also known as “adult onset” diabetes) risk was reduced by a third among consistent drinkers. Researchers speculate that this is due to an increase in insulin sensitivity, or the body’s ability to process sugar efficiently. Interestingly, these benefits were enjoyed by drinkers who chose either caffeinated or decaffeinated brews.

Another little-known benefit of coffee is that it is actually chock-full of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect cells by fighting off damaging (and carcinogenic) free-radicals. And it’s in coffee, not blueberries or dark chocolate, that most Americans load up on these anti-aging and cancer fighting compounds.5 Logically, preventing brain cell death is crucial to maintaining strong cognitive function and keeping memory sharp.

Finally, there is of course caffeine. Researchers at the University of South Florida have found that feeding mice pure caffeine can remove beta-amyloid toxins (which cause dementia) from the brain.6 This was shown to prevent and even partially erase dementia causing damage in the brains of the mice. Researchers think that about three to five cups of coffee a day could have similar effects in humans.

How Much Should I Drink?

If you’re already a coffee drinker, congratulations! You’re probably already reaping all of the benefits you just read about. The Mayo Clinic suggests that a moderate intake of coffee, or about two to four cups a day, is probably the best for your health.7

Of course, like all good things, there are a few downsides to be aware of. If you’ve got insomnia, heart problems, or anxiety, caffeine might not be right for you. Also, women who are pregnant should restrict their caffeine intake. Even so, decaf coffee still delivers many of the same benefits.

So grab a cup of java and drink up guilt free! You’re sipping mental clarity for your morning and years to come.

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References:

1. Fernau, Karen. "Coffee Grinds Fuel For The Nation". USA TODAY.

2. Eskelinen, MH, and M Kivipelto. "Caffeine As A Protective Factor In Dementia And Alzheimer's Disease. - Pubmed - NCBI". Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

3. Osterweil, Neil. "Coffee Health Benefits: Research On Type 2 Diabetes, Cancer, Stroke, And More". WebMD.

4. "Coffee And Stroke". Coffee and Health.

5. "Coffee Is Number One Source Of Antioxidants". Phys.org.

6. "A Cup Of Coffee With That Memory Test?". Hscweb3.hsc.usf.edu.

7. "Caffeine: How Much Is Too Much? - Mayo Clinic". Mayo Clinic.

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