In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of South Australia have found that high coffee consumption is associated with smaller total brain volume and an increased risk of dementia.
The study, conducted at UniSA's Australian Centre for Precision Health at SAHMRI and a team of international researchers, looked at the effects of coffee on the brains of 17,702 UK Biobank participants (aged 37 to 73) and found that those who drank more than six cups of coffee a day had a 53% increased risk of dementia.
Lead researcher and UniSA PhD student Kitty Pham says the study provides important public health insights. "Coffee is one of the most popular beverages in the world. However, with global consumption exceeding nine billion kilograms per year, it is crucial that we understand potential health effects," Pham said.
"This is the most comprehensive study of the links between coffee, measures of brain volume, dementia and stroke risk - it is also the largest study to account for volumetric brain imaging data and a wide range of confounding factors. Taking all possible combinations into account, we consistently found that higher coffee consumption was significantly associated with lower brain volume - basically, consuming more than six cups of coffee a day can increase the risk of brain diseases like dementia and stroke."
Dementia is a degenerative disease of the brain that affects memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. About 50 million people worldwide are diagnosed with this syndrome. In Australia, dementia is the second leading cause of death, with an estimated 250 people per day developing it.
A stroke cuts off the blood supply to the brain, leading to a lack of oxygen, brain damage and loss of function. Worldwide, one in four adults over the age of 25 will have a stroke in their lifetime. According to data, 13.7 million people will suffer a stroke this year and 5.5 million will die from it.
Lead researcher and director of UniSA's Australian Centre for Precision Health, Professor Elina Hyppönen, says while this news may be bitter for heavy alcohol lovers, it's about finding a balance between what you drink and what's good for your health. "This research provides important insights into heavy coffee consumption and brain health, but as with many things in life, moderation is key," says Prof. Hyppönen.
"Together with other genetic evidence and a randomised controlled trial, these data strongly suggest that high coffee consumption can affect brain health. While the exact mechanisms are not yet known, one simple action we can take is to ensure adequate hydration and remember to drink some water along with your cup of coffee.
Typical daily coffee consumption is between one and two standard cups of coffee. Of course, measurements may vary, but a couple of cups of coffee a day is generally fine. However, if you find that your coffee consumption increases to more than six cups a day, it's time to reconsider your next drink."