How coffee protects the brain

08 November 2018 15:00 Wellness Desk

Gradually, all the links fell into place, as the researchers started focusing on a set of compounds called phenylindanes, which form during the process of roasting coffee beans and lend coffee its bitter flavor.

It is the phenylindanes, rather than any other coffee-related compounds, that seem to inhibit the amalgamation of tau and beta-amyloid. These are toxic proteins, of which the excessive buildup in the brain is a key factor in neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

"So phenylindanes are a dual inhibitor. Very interesting, we were not expecting that," Dr. Weaver acknowledges.

It appears that a longer roasting time causes the coffee beans to produce more phenylindanes. This suggests that dark roasted coffee — whether regular or decaf — has the strongest protective effect on the brain.

"It's the first time anybody's investigated how phenylindanes interact with the proteins that are responsible for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's," says Dr. Mancini.

In the future, the researchers aim to conduct more detailed investigations on the properties of phenylindanes, and their effects on the body once ingested.

"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," Dr. Mancini adds.

'Mother Nature is a better chemist'

For the researchers, another exciting aspect of this discovery is that these coffee compounds are natural and do not require synthesis in the laboratory, which makes them less complicated to produce.

"Mother Nature is a much better chemist than we are and Mother Nature is able to make these compounds. If you have a complicated compound, it's nicer to grow it in a crop, harvest the crop, grind the crop out and extract it than try to make it."

At the same time, however, Dr. Mancini stresses that before they can add phenylindanes as a treatment option for neurodegenerative conditions, they need to conduct a lot more research on how these compounds would work in a therapeutic context.

"What this study does is take the epidemiological evidence and try to refine it and to demonstrate that there are indeed components within coffee that are beneficial to warding off cognitive decline," says Dr. Mancini.

"It's interesting, but are we suggesting that coffee is a cure? Absolutely not," he cautions.

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