Sure, drinking too much coffee might fill you with existential dread and give you a stomach ache, but an overwhelming number of solid studies are showing how a few cups of hot steaming bean juice hold a range of incredible health benefits.
To add to this ever-growing list, new research suggests how drinking coffee could play a role in protecting people against Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, went beyond simply finding a correlation between coffee drinkers and rates of the diseases. The authors argue that they might have stumbled on the mechanism and compounds related to coffee's fantastic health benefits for the mind.
"Coffee consumption does seem to have some correlation to a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease," Dr Donald Weaver, co-director of the Krembil Brain Institute in Canada, explained in a statement.
"But we wanted to investigate why that is – which compounds are involved and how they may impact age-related cognitive decline."
Scientists at the Krembil Brain Institute say they have found evidence that certain coffees inhibit the protein folding process. Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and a range of other disorders are referred to as protein misfolding diseases, or proteopathies, caused by abnormally folded amyloid beta proteins.
The new study highlights how a group of compounds known as phenylindanes, produced during the roasting of the coffee beans, actually stop two protein fragments common in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, beta-amyloid and tau, from clumping together and misfolding. Since deeper roasting causes higher quantities of phenylindanes, the researchers also argue that dark roasted coffee appears to be even more protective. Equally, decaffeinated dark roasts appeared to have the same effect as the caffeinated dark roasts, so caffeine is not a factor.
"It's the first time anybody's investigated how phenylindanes interact with the proteins that are responsible for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's," said study co-author Dr Ross 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."
It’s no doubt convincing stuff, especially off the back of other studies that have found an association between coffee and decreased risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. However, the researchers call for a little bit of restraint before holding coffee up as a miraculous wonder drug. As ever, more research needs to be done.
“It's interesting but are we suggesting that coffee is a cure? Absolutely not," cautioned Weaver.