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Is coffee good for your memory?

A Harvard brain expert shares how she gets the most out of its health benefits.

Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages in the world. And with today’s massive amount of research on how what we consume affects our health, it’s no surprise that these ground seeds are being investigated.

The question is: To what extent is drinking coffee good for your brain?

In 2017, Boukje van Gelder and her colleagues reported on 676 elderly men they had studied over 10 years to see if coffee protected them from cognitive decline. They found that men who drank coffee had less cognitive decline than those who didn’t.

The greatest effect was seen in those who drank three cups of coffee a day, with those who drank more or less seeing less dramatic effects.

How coffee can protect the brain and support memory

As a nutritional psychiatrist, faculty member at Harvard Medical School, and author of “This Is Your Brain on Food,” I am most compelled by the positive relationship between coffee and our psychological health. Here are just a few key ways coffee can support the brain:

  • Caffeine increases serotonin and acetylcholine, which may stimulate the brain and help stabilize the blood-brain barrier.

  • The polyphenol micronutrients in coffee may prevent tissue damage by free radicals, as well as brain blood vessel blockage.

  • High concentrations of trigonelline are found in coffee beans, which may also activate antioxidants, thereby protecting brain blood vessels.

Keep in mind, however, that not every substance in coffee is helpful. Unfiltered coffee, for example, contains natural oils called diterpenes, which increase LDL cholesterol levels — potentially resulting in the thickening and hardening of the artery walls in the brain.

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