Brewed Benefits

Studies show that coffee is key to brain health and longevity

| 20 Jul 2022 | 12:34

Want to live longer and smarter and more energetically?

The Cleveland Clinic and John Hopkins University School of Medicine have three words for you: “Drink your coffee.”

No kidding. In 2019, a Harvard Chan School of Medicine meta-analysis of 40 different studies showed coffee drinkers likely to live longer regardless of age, weight or even alcohol abuse. And a plethora of studies here, in Europe, and in China (where you might think they’d be pushing for tea) say the cup that lights up your brain each morning benefits your body from top to bottom.

What’s the magic in the mix? For starters, coffee is brewed from beans which means it serves up many of the nutrients that make other legumes nutritious. In fact, Cleveland Clinic dietitian Andrea Dunn counts about a thousand different botanical compounds in the drink, including B vitamins and enough antioxidants to make coffee your single best source of these natural chemicals that counter unstable molecules called free radicals which trigger inflammation and may damage body cells.

More specifically, USDA stats show that one 6-ounce cup of plain coffee, no milk, no sugar, delivers 12 percent of the magnesium and potassium and 6 percent of the calcium you’d get from a half cup of cooked kidney beans, all for a skinny two calories. Perhaps as a result, Chinese and Swedish researchers suggest coffee enhances your ability to process sugars, lowering your increasingly age-related risk of Type 2 diabetes, while holding liver enzyme levels within a healthy range, reducing the risk of cirrhosis even for alcoholics.

The Brain’s Three M’s

Which brings us to caffeine, the world’s most popular non-medical stimulant, a natural upper that protects your older but still bright brain’s three M’s: Mental function, Mood and Memory.

Ten years ago, a report in the medical journal Stroke showed a female coffee drinker’s risk of a cerebral accident was 25 percent lower than that for a woman who never lifted a cup. Follow-up studies have found a similarly lower risk for caffeinated men. Cleveland and Hopkins experts note that moderate coffee consumption, say two to three cups of coffee a day, also appears to reduce both the incidence of depression and the risk of the twin terrors of older age: Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s dementia. That’s truly heartening news, adding to University of Colorado School of Medicine’s report that two cups a day appear to ward of heart failure.

Of course, nothing’s perfect. On the one hand, caffeine is a natural although mild laxative, something seniors sometimes welcome. On the other, it’s an equally natural diuretic that increases urination and can leave you dehydrated if you drink too much. How much is too much? The Mayo Clinic recommends no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day. That’s roughly what you’d get from four homemade 8-ounce (80-100 mg) cups. Away from home, it’s the equivalent of 2.5 regular Starbucks Short 8 ounce cups of plain and simple Pike’s Place brew, 1 regular 20 ounce Venti, or 26.6 Short decafs.

Fair warning: whichever you choose, caffeine’s energizing effects can linger long. Drinking coffee late in the day or drinking more than your own personal limit may make you bouncy past evening and into the night. With maybe more trips to the loo than you’d like.

The final word? As the famous philosopher Jerry Seinfeld once wisely opined, “We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape; we didn’t get a good night’s sleep; we’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup.”

Or four.

In 2019, a Harvard Chan School of Medicine meta-analysis of 40 different studies showed coffee drinkers likely to live longer regardless of age, weight or even alcohol abuse.