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New Study Finds Espresso May Help Protect Against Alzheimer's & Neurodegeneration

Hannah Frye
Author:
July 29, 2023
Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
By Hannah Frye
Assistant Beauty & Health Editor
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.
(Last Used: 2/10/21) This Customizable Cacao Ritual Is A Tasty Way To Practice Self-Love
Image by Mosuno / Stocksy
July 29, 2023

Most people drink espresso for the energy boost, others for the taste, and yes, even some for the health benefits. Previous research shows that beyond increasing alertness1, black coffee can lower one's risk of coronary heart disease2, protect the gut lining3, and boost metabolism4. And a new (though very preliminary study) discovered one more potential perk of your morning brew: It could help prevent neurodegenerative disease.

Could espresso help protect against neurodegeneration?

A recent study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry shows that in preliminary in vitro (read: not performed on humans) research, espresso compounds helped protect against Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegeneration5

The aggregation of tau protein in the brain is one mechanism that is suspected to contribute to the onset of Alzheimer’s. Tau protein isn’t inherently bad—everyone has it, and it actually helps stabilize structures in the brain. But when tau proteins begin aggregating and condensing, that's what researchers believe causes neurodegeneration to begin. 

For this study, researchers looked at how medium-roast ground coffee affected the behavior of tau protein in a cell model.

Researchers pulled espresso shots (a blend of Arabica coffee from South America and Robusta coffee from Africa and Southwest Asia), taking note of their chemical makeup along the way. Then, they incubated these isolated molecules alongside tau protein for up to 40 hours. 

As the concentration of the compounds in the espresso shot increased, the shorter chains of tau protein did not form larger sheets (which would be indicative of Alzheimer’s). These shorter chains did not aggregate or act as “seeds,” as researchers describe it, for further aggregation. 

The greatest result happened when researchers used the full espresso extract versus the brew's isolated compounds. This means that espresso as a whole was more beneficial compared to the drink's isolated caffeine or other compounds.

Coffee vs. espresso

Not sure what the differences are between the two? Head here.

This aligns with previous research that found that coffee could be potentially protective against cognitive decline6. However, it’s important to point out that the roasting process for espresso and coffee is different, so these results can’t necessarily be extrapolated to include regular coffee just yet, hence why more research is needed.

As many coffee studies note, a modest amount of coffee or espresso intake (between two and three cups daily) is recommended, as caffeine overload can result in anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia, and other unwanted side effects.

Also, do your best to consume those cups at least eight hours before bed to prevent caffeine-induced insomnia. After all, sleep is one of the largest factors contributing to a healthy brain, so it's not worth interrupting or delaying.

It’s safe to say that more research is needed to replicate these findings beyond in-vitro studies. Nevertheless, this is a launching point for more research on bioactive chemicals that could protect the brain from neurodegeneration and Alzheimer's.

Plus, it's another confirmation that while coffee and espresso should be consumed in moderation, they can provide many benefits for brain health. Cheers to a brain- and energy-boosting latte.

The takeaway

A new in-vitro study shows that espresso compounds could help prevent tau protein aggregation in the brain; a process that researchers believe contributes to the onset of neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s. If you want to learn more about espresso’s benefits and how it compares to regular coffee, check out this primer.

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