Espresso: A Daily Habit That Might Ward Off Alzheimer's
The daily ritual of enjoying an espresso could be doing more than just awakening our senses. A recent study by the University of Verona, Italy, has suggested that it could also offer a shield against Alzheimer's disease.
According to the study, an espresso shot, whether consumed straight or incorporated in cocktails like an espresso martini, could inhibit the formation of rogue tau proteins in the brain. Tau proteins, in their normal state, help stabilise structures in the brain, however, in their malformed state, they are associated with neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's. When tau proteins clump together to form 'fibrils' or tangles, they contribute to neuron death and dementia, slowing down cognitive abilities such as thinking and memory skills.
The Research Findings: Espresso Versus Alzheimer's
The lead author of the study, Professor Mariapina D’Onofrio, said, “Espresso coffee mitigates the aggregation and condensation of Alzheimer's associated tau." This discovery comes after lab experiments demonstrated that the consumption of espresso prevents these fibrils from forming. The researchers also found that the fibrils, the damaging form of tau proteins, were shorter and didn't form larger sheets as the concentration of espresso extract, caffeine, or genistein increased.
Genistein is a flavonoid, a type of plant chemical known for its antioxidant effects. "Shortened fibrils were found to be non-toxic to cells, and they did not act as 'seeds' for further aggregation," Professor D’Onofrio explained. Her team analysed the chemical composition of espresso shots, focusing on caffeine and trigonelline (both alkaloids), the flavonoid genistein, and theobromine, which is also found in chocolate.
The Power of Espresso: Beyond Waking Us Up
Professor D’Onofrio added, "Whether enjoyed on its own or mixed into a latte, Americano or even a martini, espresso provides an ultra-concentrated jolt of caffeine to coffee lovers. But it might do more than just wake you up. Espresso compounds can inhibit tau protein aggregation — a process that is believed to be involved in the onset of Alzheimer's disease."
Espresso, known for its dark, rich texture, is consumed by approximately 13% of people in the UK and an estimated couple of billion globally each day. To create the perfect espresso shot, about 20g of coffee beans are finely ground and hot water is forced through, resulting in a concentrated extract. This extract often serves as a base for other drinks, including the increasingly popular espresso martini.
The Evolving Understanding of Coffee and Health
For many years, coffee consumption was associated with health risks. However, recent studies have illustrated the potential health benefits of moderate coffee consumption, , . This is likely due to its biological properties, as coffee is rich in antioxidants and plant chemicals that dampen inflammation. Regular coffee consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of premature death, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, and some cancers,,.
Conclusions and Future Directions
“We have presented a large body of evidence that espresso coffee - a widely consumed beverage - is a source of natural compounds showing beneficial properties in ameliorating tau-related pathologies," Professor D’Onofrio concluded.
These findings, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, open new pathways for exploring the potential of other bioactive compounds in the fight against neurodegenerative diseases.
While this study provides compelling evidence for the potential of espresso in ameliorating tau-related pathologies, it is important to stress that more research is needed to confirm these effects and to understand the precise mechanisms involved. Despite the promise, it's crucial to remember that this is a preliminary study.
The journey from preliminary laboratory findings to concrete health advice is a long one.
This research provides new insights into the complex relationship between diet and neurodegenerative diseases and opens new avenues for exploring the potential of other bioactive compounds. However, more research is needed to translate these preliminary findings into actionable health advice.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What are tau proteins and why are they important?
Tau proteins are a type of protein that helps stabilise structures in the brain. However, in certain circumstances, tau proteins can become malformed and clump together to form 'fibrils' or tangles. This state is associated with neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's disease. When they form tangles, they contribute to neuron death and dementia, slowing down cognitive abilities such as thinking and memory skills.
2. What is genistein and what role does it play in espresso?
Genistein is a type of plant chemical known as a flavonoid. Flavonoids are known for their antioxidant effects. According to the study, increased concentration of genistein, along with espresso extract and caffeine, leads to shorter fibrils, the damaging form of tau proteins.
3. What are the health risks and benefits of coffee consumption?
For many years, coffee consumption was associated with certain health risks. However, recent studies have shown that moderate coffee consumption could potentially offer health benefits. This is likely due to the biological properties of coffee, as it is rich in antioxidants and plant chemicals that can reduce inflammation. Regular coffee consumption has been linked to a reduced risk of premature death, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, and some cancers.
4. Does this mean that drinking espresso can prevent Alzheimer's disease?
While the study provides compelling evidence for the potential of espresso in ameliorating tau-related pathologies, it's important to remember that more research is needed to confirm these effects and understand the precise mechanisms involved. The research is still in a preliminary stage, and the journey from lab findings to concrete health advice is a long one.
4. Are there other bioactive compounds that could have potential health benefits?
Yes, the findings of this research open new pathways for exploring the potential of other bioactive compounds in the fight against neurodegenerative diseases. However, more research is needed to translate these preliminary findings into actionable health advice.
This article is for general information only and is not intended to treat or diagnose medical conditions. If in doubt please check with your GP first.
Grosso, G., et al. (2017). Coffee, Caffeine, and Health Outcomes: An Umbrella Review. Annual Review of Nutrition.
Poole, R., et al. (2017). Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes. BMJ.
Ding, M., et al. (2015). Association of Coffee Consumption With Total and Cause-Specific Mortality in Three Large Prospective Cohorts. Circulation.
Van Dam, R. M., & Hu, F. B. (2005). Coffee consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review. JAMA.
Lopez-Garcia, E., et al. (2006). Consumption of coffee and risk of myocardial infarction. Annals of Internal Medicine.
Je, Y., et al. (2014). Coffee consumption and total mortality: a meta-analysis of twenty prospective cohort studies. British Journal of Nutrition.
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