Too much coffee could increase dementia risk, study shows

In Kentucky, more than 75,000 people 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth-leading cause of death in the state.

Drinking coffee is part of many people’s morning routines, but researchers say high levels of coffee consumption could put your brain at risk.

study out of Australia found an association between coffee and dementia. Consuming more than six cups of coffee daily led to a 53% increased risk of developing dementia later in life. While the researchers are not sure exactly how too much coffee links with brain health issues, they noted that finding the right balance of consumption may help protect against future brain difficulties.

“Accounting for all possible permutations, we consistently found that higher coffee consumption was significantly associated with reduced brain volume — essentially, drinking six or more cups of coffee a day may be putting you at risk of brain diseases such as dementia and stroke,” said Kitty Pham, the lead researcher of the study.

Dementia is a degenerative brain condition. Over time, the condition causes serious cognitive decline – it affects memory, thinking, behavior and the ability to perform everyday tasks. In Kentucky, more than 75,000 people 65 and older are living with the disease, which is the sixth-leading cause of death in the state.

You don’t have to quit all coffee intake. According to Gregory E. Cooper, M.D., Ph.D., chief of adult neurology and director of the Norton Neuroscience Institute Memory Center, while the findings are interesting, more research is needed to draw a final conclusion.

The dose of coffee and the amount of caffeine makes a difference.

“It looks like a solid study, but it would be hard to reach a strong conclusion yet,” Dr. Cooper said. “In fact, there is data suggesting that caffeine generally, and coffee more specifically, might even be protective to the brain. The difference is the quantity. Some small amount is good, and too much becomes bad.”

In fact, Dr. Cooper, who has worked with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients for more than 25 years, said up to 40% of dementia cases are preventable. Recommendations to lower dementia risk include prevention against:

  • High blood pressure
  • Hearing loss
  • Air pollution (including secondhand smoke)
  • Head injury
  • Excess alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep disorders

“If you address any of these issues, your chances for developing dementia are much lower,” Dr. Cooper said. “And as for the coffee, a cup or two isn’t likely to hurt, and could even be helpful, but don’t go too crazy on the caffeine.”

Health benefits of drinking coffee — in moderation

Moderate coffee consumption has some benefits:

  • Reduced risk of prediabetes
  • Reduced risk of liver disease
  • May lower risk of developing some cancers
  • May improve cognitive function, including mood, reaction time and general mental function

Some studies show the caffeine in coffee can protect against cognitive impairment and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. 

This study recommends adults have no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine in a day. That’s roughly five eight-ounce cups of regular coffee. 

While you don’t have to stop drinking coffee, more research is needed about:

  • Coffee intake
  • Caffeine consumption 
  • How drinking coffee is linked to brain volume
  • The long-term impact of high coffee intake on cognitive impairment

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