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High Coffee Consumption Linked to Dementia Risk

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High Coffee Consumption Linked to Dementia Risk

A high level of coffee consumption — drinking more than about about six cups a day — is linked to a much higher risk of developing dementia, according to a new analysis published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.

In addition to being a popular beverage worldwide, coffee is one of the most researched dietary components. Past studies have found that coffee is linked to a variety of health benefits and risks, including a lower risk for heart failure but also, at high levels, a tendency to have higher blood cholesterol levels. In addition to heart-related matters, people with diabetes may be particularly interested in the link between coffee consumption and dementia, since diabetes is well known to be a risk factor for dementia (impairment of brain functions).

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For the latest analysis, researchers at the University of South Australia looked at the effects of coffee consumption in the brain among nearly 400,000 participants in the UK Biobank, a large general health study, between the ages of 37 and 73. This included nearly 18,000 participants who underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans as part of the study. These MRI scans began with an initial assessment, then continued at regular intervals starting four to six years after the initial scan. The researchers compared participants’ self-reported coffee consumption — based on detailed dietary questionnaires — with new diagnoses of dementia over years of follow-up, and with any changes seen in the brans of participants who underwent MRI scans. Participants were recruited between 2006 and 2010, and follow-up ended in 2018.

High coffee consumption linked to worse brain health

During the follow-up period, a total of 4,333 participants developed dementia. The researchers found that the relationship between coffee consumption and dementia risk wasn’t linear — in other words, it didn’t go consistently up or down with coffee consumption. Instead, dementia risk was lower in light coffee drinkers than in non-coffee drinkers or decaffeinated coffee drinkers. But once coffee consumption went above six cups per day, the risk for dementia shot up again — these heavy coffee drinkers were 53% more likely to develop dementia than participants who drank 1 to 2 cups daily. The researchers also found a smaller but significant increase in the risk for stroke among heavy coffee drinkers, 17% higher than among light coffee drinkers.

When it came to MRI scan results, the data showed that drinking more coffee was linked to a smaller overall brain volume, as well as a smaller volume of white matter, gray matter, and the hippocampus (an area of the brain involved in learning and memory). This relationship was linear, meaning that even light coffee drinkers tended to have a somewhat smaller brain volume, while heavy coffee drinkers saw a much greater reduction in brain volume. This brain shrinkage may help explain the dementia risk that comes with heavy coffee consumption, although it isn’t immediately clear what processes in the body lead to brain shrinkage with greater coffee consumption.

“These data strongly suggest that high coffee consumption can adversely affect brain health,” said study author Professor Elina Hyppönen in a University of South Australia press release. “While the exact mechanisms are not known, one simple thing we can do is to keep hydrated and remember to drink a bit of water alongside that cup of coffee.” But if if you find that your coffee consumption is reaching more than six cups a day, she noted, “It’s about time you rethink your next drink.”

Want to learn more about maintaining cognitive health with diabetes? Read “Nine Tips to Keep Your Memory With Diabetes,” “Keeping Your Brain Strong With Diabetes” and “Memory Fitness: How to Get It, How to Keep It.”

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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