How Coffee Helps Prevent Dementia

Not your usual detox product, but a good one.

Full disclosure: I’m a coffee lover so I’ll say anything good about it. I write this, fully caffeinated and heavily biased.  But, in my defence, there is some very good research suggesting that coffee might promote brain health. That’s because it can trigger a process called autophagy.

In 2016, Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi won a Nobel Prize for his discovery of the mechanism of autophagy, the process the body uses to clear out and recycle old cell components. This “cellular housekeeping” is a natural detox process that takes place in all mammalian cells and tissues, including the brain.

Old cell components include damaged proteins and organelles, considered to becommon features of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The autophagy process also includes engulfing and destroying bacteria and viruses, and disposing of misfolded proteins, breaking them down into their amino acid elements and recycling them. A misfolded protein is one that has become defective and misshapen. Each protein performs a different task but fails to do so if it is misfolded. This can lead to disease.

“Failure to regulate protein and organelle integrity is linked to devastating neurodegenerative diseases”.

Brain cells are highly dependent on this quality control process. When functioning efficiently, autophagy protects neurons and slows the advance of neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s. Conversely, when autophagy fails to function, or is abnormal, neurodegenerative disorders may arise.

Some misfolded proteins start clumping together into aggregates. Neurons are highly susceptible to protein aggregation, which is an indication of neuron death. Tau tangles and Aβ plaques are examples of these wayward proteins and are characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe that deficits in the autophagy process are probably responsible for the formation of these aggregates.

As self-help strategies go, autophagy is up there with the best. It’s a built-in, highly efficient therapeutic protocol that requires little effort on your part. There are a few techniques you can use to induce autophagy, and one of them – perhaps the simplest – is drinking coffee.

“The data presented in this paper unequivocally demonstrate that coffee is a potent, rapid inducer of autophagy in multiple tissues in vivo in mice.”

Both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee have been shown to “rapidly trigger” the autophagy process in the vital organs of mice. Researchers speculate that this effect is due to certain pant chemicals – polyphenols – that are found in coffee.

Dementia isn’t going away any time soon; in fact rates are increasing. Here in the UK, a recent study has suggested that the number of people living with the condition in England and Wales is expected to almost double to 17 million by 2040.

“We don’t know how long this pattern will continue, but the UK needs to be prepared”, said principal investigator Professor Eric Brunner.

These alarming statistics have nothing to do with an ageing population. As the researchers point out, the number of people developing the disease within older age groups is also increasing.

Autophagy impairment is linked to numerous chronic disorders, including cancer, heart disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, so interest in autophagy “inducers” has increased enormously over the past two decades.

What’s great about it is that you don’t need to buy expensive but dubious detox products and pills to trigger the process. Just some decent coffee, to start with.

As much as I love coffee, I have to admit its role is relatively minor. There are other well-established ways to trigger the autophagy process – see this article for further details.

Copyright © 2023 Maria Cross All rights reserved.


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