The Best Coffee for Your Brain

by Andrew Katz July 12, 2011, 05:47 am EDT

Coffee addicts rejoice: You don’t have a problem, you have a healthy habit. (We know you can quit whenever you want.)

Skip the decaf. Coffee might help protect against Alzheimer’s disease—as long as it’s the caffeine-loaded kind.

When researchers at the University of South Florida gave mice that were bred to imitate Alzheimer’s disease either caffeinated coffee, decaf, or straight caffeine, they found that the regular coffee increased the levels of a brain-boosting hormone—which reduced symptoms of the disease.

This hormone, granulocyte colony stimulating factor, spurs the production of new neurons and creates connections between existing ones, says Gary Arendash, Ph.D., professor at the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, and co-author of the study. Alzheimer’s patients are known to have low levels of the hormone.

But decaf won’t cut it. “The link was only found in caffeinated coffee, not in decaf,” says Arendash. “There seems to be a mystery component of coffee that mixes with the caffeine to protect against Alzheimer’s, but we haven’t figured out the details,” he adds. Researchers believe that drinking caffeinated coffee daily can help protect against the disease, or at least delay its onset.

Arendash says the key is the amount of coffee you take in, and recommends four cups of drip coffee each day—spread out until about 4 p.m. to avoid a caffeine crash. He cautions that only drip coffee was studied and that another form like instant might lead to different results—even taking away the benefits altogether.

But remember, everyone reacts differently to caffeine, so listen to how your body reacts and drink less if you need to. “If it causes heart palpitations, muscle tremors, or sleep problems, then you should cut back,” says Kathryn Wilson, an epidemiology research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health.

With that, Wilson suggests the healthiest way to down a cup-a-Joe is plain ol’ black. “Coffee on its own has almost no calories, and drinking regular coffee with one packet of sugar or a splash of milk (even whole milk or cream) still isn’t bad,” she adds


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