Welcome to Wellness on the Weekend!
Each weekend I will ask an expert in the health and wellness arena a question or two concerning their area of expertise. My goal is to educate and empower us all to be healthier.
Today I am thrilled to present Annie Fenn, MD (brainhealthkitchen.com). Annie is a physician and chef focused on Alzheimer’s prevention. I was interested to learn more about coffee and Alzheimer’s disease.
Is coffee protective against Alzheimer's disease?
Lifelong coffee consumption has been associated with the prevention of cognitive decline, and reduced risk of developing stroke, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's. Studies in Europe show that coffee drinkers who consume 3 to 5 cups per day live longer and have less dementia. In Norway and Sweden, where many of these studies were done, drinking coffee is a social occasion that gathers friends on a daily basis. So, is it the coffee they drink or the social interaction that keeps their brains healthy? That study has not been done. Not all studies agree that coffee prevents dementia; reports from China and Japan detected no correlation between coffee intake and cognitive function. They did find, however, that green tea improved mental agility by 70% in this population!
If so, why?
High quality coffee contains not just caffeine, but over 200 antioxidants. The caffeine may exert neuroprotective effects in two ways: by stabilizing the blood brain barrier, and by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain. This results in higher concentrations of serotonin and acetylcholine — all key neurotransmitters for brain health. The polyphenols in coffee help protect brain neurons from destruction by free radicals. One of the antioxidants in coffee, quercetin, has been shown to be neuroprotective by blocking the effects of toxins and oxidative stress on brain cells.
How much coffee is optimal?
Most of the studies support drinking 3 to 5 cups of black coffee per day. That's because they were done in coffee-drinking cultures like Finland, Italy, France, and Sweden. Those who drank 3 cups a day had less dementia than those who drank more or less. Just one cup per day has been shown to reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease in men (but not women.)
Keep in mind that adding dairy products to coffee will neutralize many of its beneficial antioxidants. Coffee is proven to be healthy in many cultures, but not here in the United States. That's probably because we load up our coffee with unhealthy fats and way too much sugar, and gulp it down on the go. I recommend drinking coffee black. If you love cream and sugar in your coffee, like I did for many years, try weaning yourself off. Start by replacing the cream or milk with alternative milks, such as almond, cashew or oat. Replace refined white sugar with a good raw honey and keep cutting back on the amount over several weeks. Once you are drinking good quality black coffee, you will be astounded by all the intricate flavors that vary from bean to bean. For a latte-like coffee drink to help you get through the weaning process, try my Cashew Coffee: Place 1/4 cup cashews (raw or roasted), 2 cups high quality brewed coffee, a pinch of salt and a drop of honey in a powerful blender. Whiz on high speed until frothy and smooth.
Annie Fenn is a board-certified physician, culinary instructor and trained chef. She practiced obstetrics and gynecology with a specialty in menopausal health for over 20 years in Jackson, Wyoming, where she lives.
Dr. Fenn switched gears in 2010 to practice medicine from a different angle—teaching her patients how to eat and cook with whole foods. After attending culinary school in Italy, Mexico and the Culinary Institute of America, she taught dozens of cooking classes in her community and wrote about food, health and sustainability for numerous media outlets. In 2017, she launched Brain Health Kitchen, the only cooking school of its kind to focus exclusively on preventing Alzheimer’s and dementia.