Percolating prevention? Better to take advice with a bean of coffee…

Danielle Lepar
Danielle Lepar

A few weeks ago- just as I was letting out a yawn and considering meandering down to the cafe for a little extra “morning strength”- a segment came on the radio that caught my attention.  It was a short report on NPR regarding the protective effect coffee-drinking may have on the brain.  Specifically, the host highlighted a recent study done by The Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center that discusses the potential for caffeine and coffee to be used as therapeutic agents for Alzheimer’s disease.

Perfect, I thought, research that supports my love of java!  And as a public health student, I can feel good about doing some personal prevention against cognitive impairment, right?!

Not necessarily.  The first catch is that in order to obtain the beneficial effects mentioned above, one would need to drink 500 mg of caffeine- the equivalent of 5 cups of joe- daily.  Despite the fact that some days require more supplemental “umph” than others, the average American only drinks one and a half cups of coffee per day. For the many who stick close to this average, five cups might simulate the effect of feeling like a walking power plant.

The second snag here is that these findings are based on a study that used murine models. The biological response of mice often indicates that of humans and this has led to a great amount of health-related innovation.  However, it’s not always the case.  Before research demonstrates that the protective effects of caffeine can be achieved in humans as well, people may want to maintain a healthy amount of suspicion regarding these claims.

A final point for consideration is whether this sole, promising effect should overshadow the other things we already know about caffeine consumption. I mean, isn’t sleep important?  Or trying to minimize your stress?  Caffeine has also been shown to raise cortisol levels.

I too was quick to want to cast aside the reasons I should kick my, occasionally hazelnut-roasted, habit in light of these findings. Yet I think that this study demonstrates an important message in public health: that we should be wary of delivering promising health claims without presenting the bigger picture.

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