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The Coffee Break: Could This Mental Performance Booster Be Shrinking Your Brain?
With so many stories extolling the cognitive benefits afforded to coffee drinkers you could be forgiven for thinking the popular beverage downright healthy - even a tonic for the brain. But might that coffee break be doing your brain more harm than good?
BY CAROLYN HANSEN

Dear Brain, I'm afraid I have some not-so-great news about all the caffeine I've been pouring into you over the years.

You see, it dawned on me recently that the litany of health claims I allowed myself to believe about coffee being absolutely great for you might not have been completely accurate...

Sorry about that.

But look, you can't blame me entirely. Every year 820 billion cups of coffee are brewed and gulped globally. By the time you finish reading this sentence (10 seconds) another quarter of a million cups will have been consumed - some of which the more discerning among us will pay as much as $75 to experience (Klatch Coffee premium grades, Los Angeles). So, as you can see Brain, some big numbers are driving this coffee business. If the truth needs to bend a little in the interest of cultivating your caffeine-loving habits, well, I think you can see how that might happen every now and then...

But I'm going to make a deal with you.

First, I'm going to come clean about what I've learned, and the harm I might have indirectly caused you by failing to do my due diligence.

Then I'll make up for it by showing you how to manage the accrued damage with memory-preserving coffees (assuming I got to you in time). This also means I'll help you eliminate any of the brain cell-destroying activities you may currently be accommodating during those seemingly innocous coffee breaks of mine. The ones I now realize may actually be causing you to shrink.

Coffee Grinds... What Are You Really Drinking?
Seriously Brain, the shrinkage thing came as a complete shock to me when I realized what I might be doing to you.

Although admittedly, there have been hints. If the nervous system-related aggravations I've been able to attribute to excessive caffeine intake count, then there have been a LOT of them. On my list: tachycardia (rapid heart beat), headaches, ringing in the ears, palpitations, tremors, insomnia, restlessness, stress, confusion, nervousness (and panic attacks), irritation, and addiction (plus all the withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, irritability, drowsiness and fatigue).

Basically all the drawbacks you would associate with a nervous system simulant. Because that's what caffeine is - a drug extract from coffee beans that acts on the brain. On you, Brain.

The chemists call it 1,3,7-trimethylxanthine and they have been able to trace its neurochemical influence to brain cells which express adenosine receptors.
1,3,7-trimethylxanthine
Though it might sound like one, adenosine is not a neurotransmitter. That is to say, it does not play a part in the regular transmission of chemical messages from one brain cell to the next.

Instead, adenosine serves to block transmission of several of your most influential neurotransmitters, one of which is dopamine.

Adenosine works its relaxing, or "sleep inducing", effect by attaching to the A2A version of the adenosine receptor which is expressed primarily in a portion of the brain richly populated with dopamine receptors (those are the same ones that light up when you get a reward, like the thrill of taking a big bite out of a chocolate bar).

In the absence of adenosine, or when its action is completely blocked, the effect of too much activated dopamine is neural overstimulation. That's the heightened state of alertness that has you feeling "wired", ultimately even psychotic if the process gets away on you.

Caffeine works its most tangible mental effects (heightened state of alertness, responsiveness, awareness) by partially blocking the A2A receptors, and this inhibits the effect of adenosine.

So caffeine acts to elevate dopamine levels in the brain, which stimulates motor activity. This is why coffee makes it harder for you to relax - and when overindulged may lead to the jitters. Cocaine and amphetamines have a similar effect, just a lot more of it (though they do in fact act on distinctly different dopamine pathways).

But caffeine taken in moderation?

For most people the neurological benefits of caffeine are hard to resist - a veritable swarm of positive associations succintly captured by the term caffeine buzz. As in, "I need to get my buzz on before I even THINK about digging into another of Johnson's sleep-inducing reports..."

Brain, the side effects of the black brew are so widely documented that you are sure to be familiar with at least a few of...
The 12 Scientifically-Recognized Benefits Of Soaking In Dopamine-Bumping 1,3,7-Trimethylxanthine*
[ *The official scientist-approved terminology for buzz-worthy caffeine. ]

Go ahead and tick off all the ones that draw you like a magnet to the coffee pot each morning...
  1. Enhanced mood
  2. Clearer thinking
  3. Faster and more reliable recall
  4. Elevated awareness
  5. Better reaction time
  6. Heightened alertness
  7. Greater information processing speed
  8. Increased concentration and attention span
  9. Increased sense of wellbeing and security
  10. More self confidence and the desire to socialize
  11. Increased motivation
  12. Greater task efficiency...
No wonder you love the stuff as much as you do.

At this point you might be wondering what I mean by moderation in relation to caffeine intake. What's a safe daily limit?

According to all the studies I have come across, moderation amounts to no more than 3-4 cups, assuming the per cup dosage is around 100mg of caffeine. If you drink instant coffee or expresso coffee you're probably looking at about 100mg plus or minus 40mg per cup. If you're drinking cappucinos it's probably double this amount, around 200mg plus or minus 50mg (the caffeine may be more diluted, but the cups are much bigger!).

If you drink 5 cups per day, or 500mg, you'll survive - although there are much more brain-friendly caffeine alternatives.

But at 50 cups (or much less if you suffer any form of impaired liver function) scientists have warned you may not last long. Balzac, the renowned early 19th century French playwright and novelist is rumored to have consumed as many as 50 cups every day. He crowed about the indispensable nature of coffee for the creative endeavor, comparing its ability to marshal his thought processes with the might of an unstoppable military campaign.

"Were it not for coffee," he wrote, "one could not write, which is to say one could not live." But as Mason Currey, the author of Daily Rituals has pointed out, Balzac "ended up suffering from stomach cramps, facial twitches, headaches, and high blood pressure, and he died of heart failure age 51."

If Balzac was alive today he would not have been surprised to learn that scientists have found caffeine a promising treatment for people suffering from Parkinson's disease. The dopamine-rousing action of caffeine has been shown to inhibit the rigidity, decreased mobility, and tremors associated with a disease characterized by rampant loss of the dopamine-controlled neurons found at the top of the brain stem. This pharmacological action, at least, seems to be genuine.
Caffeine - A Cheap But Effective Brain-Saving Medical Marvel, Or A Dementia-Halting Huckster?
And here's where concerns about your impending shrinkage enter the story, Brain.

Because when scientists realized caffeine might be able to stem one neurodegenerative disease they got excited that it might lead to a cure for that most dreaded of them all - Alzheimer's disease.

Likey just the name of it is enough to make you cringe.

Which of course it should. Because while to all appearances it starts as simple symptoms of memory loss, confusion, and slow withdrawal from the world, behind the scenes a whole lot more is going on...

By the time these worrying signs begin alerting us that something is not quite right with our brain it has likely been reducing in volume for 20 years or more.

Brain cells, and even more importantly the connections between them which store vital information, like the dates of our children's births and all the little things about ourselves we take for granted but which in aggregate define who we think we are, begin disappearing in large numbers around the time we reach middle age.
even healthy brains shrink with age
Brain tissue (white) shrinks with age. Left: 27 yr old brain. Right: 87 yr old brain. [Image credit: The Oregon Brain Aging Study]
Even in the complete absence of disease the human brain grows smaller by the decade. By middle age you will be losing about 5 percent of your brain volumn with every passing decade, even if you remain perfectly healthy.

By old age a full 25 percent of your brain cell connections will have been lost and perhaps 40 percent of your dopamine function. It is a wonder that old people do not become even more grumpy or less functional than they do!

But you should be prepared to throw all that out the window when brain disease enters the picture.
even healthy brains shrink with age
Brain scans done with Positron Emission Tomography (PET) show how Alzheimer's affects brain activity. The left image shows a normal brain, while the right is from a person with Alzheimer's. The blue and black areas in the right image indicate reduced brain activity resulting from the disease. [Image credit: Flickr, courtesy of Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral Center, National Institute on Aging]
Alzheimer's disease represents about 70 percent of all cases of dementia (more than 100 other types are cataloged, the next most frequent being vascular dementia).

Alzheimer's is essentially a shrinking-brain disease. It represents one of the leading causes of death today. And despite the many claims you may hear to the contrary, it cannot be reversed. Your best bet for surviving it is to never get it in the first place.

But that hasn't stopped some really smart people from taking a crack at it...
Good News: Science Shows Caffeine Puts A Stop To Brain Shrinkage (Or Does It?)
In 2009 a Finnish study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease announced evidence for an amazing health claim. Drinking coffee could erase much of your risk for late-life dementia. The title of the paper was "Midlife Coffee and Tea Drinking and the Risk of Late-Life Dementia: A Population-Based CAIDE Study". The lead author was Marjo Eskelinen.

Eskelinen and her colleagues explained how they had analyzed the findings of the Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Aging and Dementia (CAIDE) study, during which time 1409 middle-aged participants had been followed for an average period of 21 years. They claimed their analysis showed that "coffee drinking of 3-5 cups per day at midlife was associated with a decreased risk of dementia/Alzheimer's disease by about 65 percent at late-life".

What does this mean in layman's terms?

That for every 1,000 non coffee-drinkers who would have gone on to develop this cruel disease and suffer all the horrors of rampant memory loss and relationship-destroying personality erosion (and ultimately death) 650 of them might be spared this fate by switching to a regular coffee habit. So long as they took up their coffee drinking habit by middle age.

The story received wide media coverage and is still quoted frequently today. The researchers did note several similar studies had turned up no such correlation between a habit of drinking coffee and lowered risk of dementia.
3-5 cups of coffee appears to lower Alazheimer's risk substantially
Compared to those who drink no more than two cups of coffee per day, people who drink 3-5 cups initially appeared to have a 65 percent reduction in their risk of Alzheimer's disease (AD) in late-life. [Image: ]
On reading the full CAIDE study result (or looking at the graph above which shows the results) you can see that 65 percent is the "best estimate" of the risk reduction associated with the researchers analysis. But the possible range for the risk reduction is between 85 and 15 percent.

Hmmm. Fifteen percent is a lot smaller than sixty-five percent.

Still, it is an enticing finding. Drink coffee and lower your risk of losing your mind. That's headline worthy news for sure. And it's not like there are no substances in coffee beans which might benefit your brain...
Is Chlorogenic Acid Providing The Protection?
Coffee beans do not only contain caffeine. They are full of chemical substances known as antioxidants which intercept toxic byproducts produced in the brain. These toxins, called reactive oxygen species, are a necessary side effect of the metabolic processes required to produce the energy that keeps your brain running. These "oxidizing agents" damage neural connections and eventually cause brain cell death. They are part of the reason your brain shrinks with age even if you are healthy.

One of the antioxidant brain-savers found in coffee - the most abundant one - is chlorogenic acid.

Unfortunately roasting of coffee beans causes a significant loss of antioxidant function. Medium-roasted beans suffer a 40-50 percent loss of antioxidant power. For dark roasts the number is closer to 90 percent.
chlorogenic acid content highest in green coffee beans
The argument for green bean coffee: the less roasted the coffee bean, the higher the (supposedly) brain-saving chlorogenic acid content.
Some researchers suspect the large chlorogenic molecules are not even able to cross the blood brain barrier from the bloodstream and reach areas of the brain where they might help stem the damage due to oxidization. Laboratories all across the world find themselves in heated debate about what the mysterious substance is in coffee that confers the reported protection against dementia in old age.

Is it caffeine? Is is chlorogenic acid? Is it something else?

Or is it all a mirage? Because as of late 2018 the association between coffee drinking and your reduction in risk for dementia appears to be on very shaky ground...
Bad News. Science Retracts Its Claim. Coffee Will NOT Save Your Brain After All...
In October of that year Susanna Larsson and Nicola Orsini from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, repeated the Eskelinen analysis from 2009. But this time they expanded the work to include seven additional high-quality studies which were published between 2011 and 2018. The title of the new paper was "Coffee Consumption and Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer's Disease: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies".

Larsson and Orsini looked at a combined 328,885 individuals who were followed for a period of between 4.9 and 25 years. Of this large group 7486 people were ultimately diagnosed with dementia. But NO link was found between how much coffee was consumed by participants in the combined study and their risk for Alzheimer's disease in later life.
combined results of 8 studies on coffee drinking and reduction of dementia risk
Combined analysis of eight studies on coffee drinking and Alzheimer's risk in later life finds NO association whatsoever (solid line shows same risk independent of daily consumption). [Image: ]
The coffee drinker's risk of getting Alzheimer's disease in later life compared to people who do not drink coffee was found to almost completely independent of the number of cups of coffee consumed per day, and unchanged from the "zero cups" risk. The graph above shows that the uncertainty in the determination of this risk (the dotted lines) grows with the number of cups consumed. But the "best estimate" of no risk reduction remains unchanged.

The 65 percent reduction of Alzheimer's risk due to drinking 3-5 cups of coffee found in the Eskelinen study of 1409 participants? Vanished in the much larger data set. At best, drinking coffee seems to cause no harm to your brain according to the new study. But it does not protect your brain from dementia. Or if it does, something else must be counteracting its effects in the study.
How To Pull Off The Brain Healthy Coffee Break
Unfortunately no one has performed a study of the cognitive effects of coffee drinking which also controls for a well-known factor which influences dementia risk, and that is sugar consumption. In fact the association of dementia with high blood sugar is so well established that Alzheimer's researchers often refer to the disease as "Type 3 diabetes".

But the "diabetes" association is misleading.

That's because you don't need to be diagnosed with any form of diabetes for your risk of dementia to shoot up as a result of having higher than normal blood sugar. Eighty-six million prediabetic Americans (those yet to be officially diagnosed as diabetic) have elevated blood sugar and have no idea they may be risking cognitive decline because of it. In fact, since as early as 2004 it has been known that 40 percent of all cases of Alzheimer's disease (i.e. brain shrinkage) trace back to elevated blood sugar.

So not only is adding sugar to that cup of coffee contributing to your brain shrinkage, but using coffee to wash down a sugar-laden donut, iced cinnamon bun, or other sticky treat could well be doing the most harm of all. Luckily there is a way to almost entirely avoid this brain-destroying practice which does NOT require you to give up your coffee break or deny your sweet tooth.

Better than that, the approach involves swapping out some (or all) of your coffee, sugar, and sugary treats for look-alike and taste-alike memory-preserving coffees and sweeteners that have not only been dependably used by indigenous tribes for centuries to ward off cognitive decline, but in the laboratory have been found to inhibit the very same brain connectivity-dismantling processes that erase memory and lead to Alzheimer's disease.

Everything I have learned about how to go about this you can find below in my related resource, the Brain Healthy Coffee Break.

When you click on the download button found below this article you'll be given the opportunity to receive the book (for free) and discover how to protect your brain against dementia. You will then be able to continue to enjoy the coffee breaks you have grown to depend upon to get through the day, but not have to sacrifice the health of your brain to continue doing so.

Final note: If you add up all the coffee breaks you intend to take over the next one, two, even three decades, you'll quickly see why getting started with this brain-friendly alternative to the coffee break is well worth a few minutes of your time...

THE SELF HEALING BRAIN ~ RELATED RESOURCE

"A Brain Healthy Coffee Break? What Does That Even Look Like?"
All your questions about how to rid your coffee break of the memory-zapping effects now thought to be linked to sugar and caffeine are answered in this FREE RESOURCE. Inside its pages...
•  How to reinvent your coffee break so as to AVOID THE BRAIN CELL-DEPLETING DANGERS of a caffeinated, caramelized brain...
•  How to harness the memory-preserving properties of an ancient desert-blooming fruit to BUILD A STEEL-TRAP MEMORY...
•  A surprising brain-healthy coffee "look-alike" PLUS 10 simple recipes for delicious, guilt-free, sugar-free ULTRA BRAIN-FRIENDLY SNACKS!

Download Now

Note: This resource is provided FREE of charge. To download it you need to supply a deliverable email address so the author (creator of the AGELESS BRAIN program) knows where to send it. Your email will never be shared.
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Ageless Brain is a simple science-based protocol which protects against memory loss and slashes dementia risk by encouraging your brain to rewire itself for a lifetime of resilient, razor-sharp mental performance...
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THE SELF HEALING BRAIN ~ RELATED RESOURCE

"A Brain Healthy Coffee Break? What Does That Even Look Like?"
All your questions about how to rid your coffee break of the memory-zapping effects now thought to be linked to sugar and caffeine are answered in this FREE RESOURCE. Inside its pages...
•  How to reinvent your coffee break so as to AVOID THE BRAIN CELL-DEPLETING DANGERS of a caffeinated, caramelized brain...
•  How to harness the memory-preserving properties of an ancient desert-blooming fruit to BUILD A STEEL-TRAP MEMORY...
•  A surprising brain-healthy coffee "look-alike" PLUS 10 simple recipes for delicious, guilt-free, sugar-free ULTRA BRAIN-FRIENDLY SNACKS!

Download Now

Note: This resource is provided FREE of charge. To download it you need to supply a deliverable email address so the author (creator of the AGELESS BRAIN program) knows where to send it. Your email will never be shared.

This website publishes stories with the intended purpose of attracting people who have an interest in improving the long-term health of their brain. The owner has a material financial connection to the provider of the goods and services referred to on this site in that she receives compensation for clicks onto the ad or for sales of the product. The statements on this website or in the ads are for informational purposes only. The products advertised are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Any results portrayed in this story should be regarded as illustrative, and may not be the results you achieve using the product. Please consult with your health care practitioner for all your health care needs. Any testimonials presented on this website are for individual cases and do not guarantee that you will get the same results.