TORONTO — That hot cup of joe you require each morning may be doing more for your brain than giving it a burst of energy. A new study finds that drinking coffee also shields us from the development of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers from the Krembil Brain Institute point to chemical compounds called “phenylindanes” that are believed to hold the key to preventing our brains from falling victim to the debilitating conditions.
“Coffee consumption does seem to have some correlation to a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease,” says study co-author Dr. Donald Weaver, co-director of the Krembil Brain Institute, in a release. “But we wanted to investigate why that is — which compounds are involved and how they may impact age-related cognitive decline.”
For the study, researchers looked at the makeup of three types of coffee: light roast, dark roast, and decaffeinated dark roast.
“The caffeinated and de-caffeinated dark roast both had identical potencies in our initial experimental tests,” says Dr. Ross Mancini, a research fellow in medicinal chemistry. “So we observed early on that its protective effect could not be due to caffeine.”
That’s when Mancini discovered phenylindanes, the only chemical compound the researchers examined in the study that prevent the buildup of beta amyloid and tau, the two protein fragments that are known to lead to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Phenylindanes were found to develop during the roasting process for coffee beans.
“So phenylindanes are a dual-inhibitor. Very interesting, we were not expecting that.” says Dr. Weaver.
What’s more, the longer the beans were roasted, the greater the number of phenylindanes — which means darker roasts are even more powerful in the fight against cognitive decline.
“It’s the first time anybody’s investigated how phenylindanes interact with the proteins that are responsible for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” says Mancini. “The next step would be to investigate how beneficial these compounds are, and whether they have the ability to enter the bloodstream, or cross the blood-brain barrier.”
Could scientists now be on the verge of a natural soldier in the war against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s? The doctors say while drinking coffee may be just one more thing we can do to protect ourselves, more research must be done.
“What this study does is take the epidemiological evidence and try to refine it and to demonstrate that there are indeed components within coffee that are beneficial to warding off cognitive decline,” says Weaver. “It’s interesting but are we suggesting that coffee is a cure? Absolutely not.”
The full study was published on October 12, 2018 in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.