Decaf Coffee Benefits the Brain

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Caffeine addicts may wonder: What's the point of decaf coffee? A new study suggests it may benefit the brain and protect against the mental decline that comes with aging and certain diseases.

In the study of mice with Type 2 diabetes, those that consumed decaffeinated coffee for five months were able to better utilize sugar in their brains than those who did not consume decaffeinated coffee.

Sugar metabolism — the breakdown of sugar by cells for energy — is often reduced in the brains of people with Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to cognitive problems. Similar impairments in sugar metabolism are seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.

The study is the first to show the potential benefits of decaffeinated coffee for both preventing and treating the mental decline caused by Type 2 diabetes or other neurodegenerative disorders said study researcher Dr. Giulio Maria Pasinetti, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Although regular coffee has been found to bring a number of health benefits, including a reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and some cancers, it also contains caffeine, which poses risks for the heart. Caffeine can increase blood cholesterol and blood pressure — both risk factors for heart disease.

Decaffinated coffee contains compounds called pholyphenols, which are known to boost cognitive performance, Pasinetti said. The new study suggests some of the non-caffeine components of coffee, including pholyphenols, may also be able to ward off cognitive problems, Pasinetti said.

However, because the study was conducted in mice, scientists don't know whether the same will be true for people.

The researchers hope to study whether decaffeinated coffee can prevent age-related cognitive decline in people, Pasinetti said. In order to prevent these diseases, it would be crucial to treat people before they become symptomatic, Pasinetti said.

The study was funded by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

Pass it on: Decaffeinated coffee may protect against the cognitive decline that occurs with Type 2 diabetes and aging.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.