The Morning Coffee

Dueling Coffee-Brain Headlines

This weekend, a cascade of coffee-brain headlines wandered all over the place:

Coffee Is Good for Your Brain

Too Much Coffee Can Ruin Your Brain

Take your pick: maybe coffee is a brain tonic, maybe it’s brain poison. How can these headlines come from the same study? What are we supposed to believe?

To begin with, the study is a reasonably well-designed epidemiological study in 1,445 Italians with normal cognitive function. In this study they found that people who drank one or two cups of coffee per day had a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) over a 3.5 years of follow-up than people who never or rarely drank it. However, they found that people who stepped up their coffee consumption during the study had a higher rate of MCI than people who held steady in their coffee drinking. The study included no reports of “ruined brains.”

Because this study examines associations, it proves nothing about cause and effect. And when you think about the link to increasing coffee coffee consumption, reverse causation is certainly a reasonable explanation. In other words, people who are having some mild cognitive decline might find themselves wanting a jolt from another cup of coffee.

Regardless of this bit of confusion, the big picture on coffee is looking pretty good. Of course, it’s not a miracle elixir. But data on potential benefits are adding up, while some older concerns seen to be fading.

So if you enjoy your coffee, there’s no reason to stop. Just watch out for those sugary, creamy, dessertish drinks that pretend to be coffee.

Click here to read the study, here to read more about it in the Washington Post, and here to read more on the health effects of coffee from the New York Times.

The Morning Coffee, photograph © Thomas Leth-Olsen / flickr

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August 3, 2015