Your Brain Loves Coffee for Good Reasons

20th April 2014 by Christian Elliott

IMG_2561 The warmth. The wonderful aroma of roasted coffee beans. A fresh cup prepared just the way you like it: a morning and daily ritual practiced by millions of coffee drinkers around the world.

The obvious reason that people consume over 8 million metric tons of coffee beans each year is for the caffeine, which metabolises primarily into paraxanthine. Paraxanthine raises epinephrine levels in the bloodstream, priming both our body and brain for increased activity.

In addition to the reliable caffeine jolt that coffee provides, research studies show that there are several long term brain health benefits that habitual coffee drinkers enjoy:

Coffee beans are full of antioxidents. It turns out that many people receive almost all of their antioxidents from drinking coffee, with tea and bananas a distant second and third choice. While coffee is a reasonable option for antioxidant intake, vegetables and fruits are also good choices. See this expanded list of brain healthy foods.

Regular coffee consumption can provide some protection against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. No, coffee does not prevent or cure neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s. But, some large scale studies do indicate that people who regularly consume 2-5 cups of coffee per day are afforded some incremental protection against symptoms of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, compared to age matched controls who don’t regularly consume coffee.

Two cautionary notes for coffee drinkers: First, keep it simple on adding milk, sugar, and other treats to your coffee. A 20 ounce white chocolate mocha clocks in at over 500 calories, just for one drink!

Second, older adults metabolise caffeine at a much slower rate than a 25 year old. If you’re over 50, have your last cup of coffee before 3pm, if you want a good night’s sleep.

See also: This is Your Brain on Fat and Sugar


    Protecting Memory Health Organically

    25th February 2014 by Christian Elliott

    strawberry-flavonol-memorySome interesting work being done by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies with organic compounds that appear to provide some protection against memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

    The Salk researchers applied flavonols, a type of chemical with strong anti-oxidant properties found in many fruits and vegetables, to a mouse model that mimics symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

    The results showed that adding a type of flavonol (fisetin) to the diet of mice genetically engineered to have Alzheimer’s symptoms allowed these mice to perform as well as their normal counterparts on water maze tests (a classic lab test for learning and memory).

    Another important finding was that adding flavonol to the diet of mice prone to Alzheimer’s did not eliminate the presence of amyloid beta deposits in the brain, even though memory performance improved. This second finding adds further to evidence that the amyloid hypothesis for AD is probably wrong.

    The Salk Institute work broadens out alternative methods for preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia, and also points to a growing market for “medical grade” diet and food choices.

    See also: When Memory Loss Isn’t Alzheimer’s or Dementia: Vitamin B Deficiencies


      Can Infant Brain Scans Predict Future Alzheimer’s Risk?

      25th January 2014 by Christian Elliott

      baby-brain-scanIn a study destined to generate some controversy, researchers at Brown University and Banner Alzheimer’s Institute have identified significant differences in the brain scans of babies (ages 2 months to 25 months), based on their APOE4 gene status, a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

      A total of 162 sleeping babies underwent MRI brain scans that recorded brain development markers – white matter myelin water fraction (MWF) and gray matter volume (GMV) in several brain regions.

      The results showed that the infants who were APOE4 carriers had lower MWF and GMV readings in brain areas affected by Alzheimer’s, compared to infants that did not have the APOE4 gene type.

      So does this study predict which infants will develop Alzheimer’s disease later in life as adults? No, of course not.

      But it does raise some very interesting issues on the interplay between genetic risk factors (the copies of genes you receive from your parents), and environmental risk factors (access to education, diet & exercise choices, concussion history, etc).

      The Brown University study moves us towards a “lifespan” view of neurological diseases – that based on the human genetic lottery, a particular person’s brain simply may be more vulnerable to brain diseases during his or her lifetime.

      The challenge (and opportunity), then becomes to identify the most useful interventions (both pharmacological and lifestyle) that can improve brain health, using personal genome information to guide choices along the way.

      The next decade will be very interesting on this front!

      See also: Brain Health Primer: Four Ways to Maintain Your Brain

      See also: Take the Healthy Brain Test

        Alcohol is Your Brain’s Friend, and Enemy

        22nd January 2014 by Christian Elliott

        alcohol-brain-healthTake a pass on that third glass of wine (or beer, or liquor) if you want to keep your memory and cognitive health in good shape as you age into your golden years.

        That’s the message from a study on alcohol consumption and brain health, published in the journal Neurology.

        The study tracked over 7,000 people (average age 56) for a total of 10 years, recording average alcohol consumption for each subject, along with performance on memory and cognitive tests that were administered during the study period.

        Researchers divided participants into two groups: Light-Moderate drinkers and Heavy drinkers.

        Here’s the important part you need to know: Light-Moderate drinkers consumed 20 grams or less of pure alcohol on a daily basis, equivalent to about 8oz/235ml of wine, or 20oz/585ml of beer – typically a bit less than two drinks.

        Heavy drinkers were categorized as consuming at least 36 grams of pure alcohol each day – 3.5 or 4 drinks (or more) every day.

        For men in the study, heavy drinkers scored substantially worse on the memory and cognitive health tests during the research period.

        An interesting gender difference also appeared in this study: women who abstained from drinking any alcohol showed memory and cognitive decline on test sores compared to women who drank a very light amount of alcohol (about half a glass of wine or beer each day).

        This gender difference is probably related to the cardiovascular benefits women enjoy from light alcohol consumption – see this article on how light alcohol use can reduce stroke risk.

        Bottom line: Moderation is a virtue, when it comes to alcohol and your brain health!

          Merck Advances BACE Inhibitor Trial for Alzheimer’s Disease

          16th January 2014 by Christian Elliott

          BACE-AD-trial-merckMerck announced last month that it is moving ahead with MK-8931, an experimental BACE inhibitor drug designed to slow the production of amyloid beta protein in the brain, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

          Beta secretase (BACE) inhibitors work by interfering with the process that creates amyloid beta protein in the first place, in the theory that halting production of amyloid beta will vastly reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s disease.

          Patient safety in Merck’s Phase 2 & 3 clinical trials should be closely monitored. In addition to controlling the formation of amyloid beta protein in the brain, BACE is also involved in the development of myelin sheathes — the “insulation” surrounding the long axons of nerves throughout the human body.

          The possibility of serious unintended consequences can happen when drugs tinker with a basic process that controls several important functions, in addition to the one it happens to target, in this case halting the process of amyloid beta production.

          Another unanswered question is whether amyloid beta toxicity in the brain is the actual cause of Alzheimer’s disease, or if it is simply a robust biomarker (or evidence trail) of disease progression.

          Stay tuned for updates on Alzheimer’s drug trial progress.