Compounds in coffee found to fight off Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia

Good news for coffee drinkers: U.S. researchers have found two compounds in coffee — caffeine and EHT — work together to prevent Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia. Recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the findings suggest that these compounds may potentially be used as a natural way to slow brain degeneration.

Earlier studies have shown that coffee consumption may lower the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, and caffeine is generally known to be the protective agent. However, coffee beans have over a thousand other compounds that are less well-known. Therefore, the researchers of the current study explored other compounds in coffee beans; they focused on EHT (Eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide), which is a fatty acid derivative of the neurotransmitter serotonin found in the waxy coating of coffee beans. In an animal trial, they found that this compound protects the brains of mice against abnormal protein accumulation that is linked to Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. (Related: Coffee makes your brain younger: Research shows that by normalizing stress hormones, coffee reverses memory deficits.)

“EHT is a compound found in various types of coffee but the amount varies. It is important that the appropriate amount and ratio be determined so people don’t over-caffeinate themselves, as that can have negative health consequences,” said M. Maral Mouradian, lead author of the study and director of the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Institute for Neurological Therapeutics.

For the current study, U.S. researchers sought to determine whether EHT could work together with caffeine for even greater brain protection. In conducting the study, they gave mice small doses of caffeine, EHT, or both. The results showed that caffeine or EHT alone was not effective. However, when taken together, EHT and caffeine enhanced the activity of a catalyst that helps to inhibit the buildup of harmful proteins in the brain. This indicates that EHT and caffeine, in combination, has the potential to slow or stop the progression of Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

These findings are important because current treatments only address the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease but do not protect against brain degeneration. Today, about one million people in the U.S. are living with Parkinson’s disease and suffer from its symptoms such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination. On the other hand, Lewy body dementia is one of the most common forms of dementia that affects over one million people in the U.S. This disease impairs behavior, mood, movement, and thinking.

Other compounds in coffee that are beneficial for your health

As mentioned earlier, coffee beans contain over a thousand compounds other than caffeine, and many of these are antioxidants. Antioxidants combat the damage caused by free radicals in your cells, contributing to disease prevention. These include:

  • Cafestol and kahweol: These compounds are present in coffee’s natural oil and can be found in high amounts in unfiltered coffee. They have been shown to protect the liver and ward off cancer. However, high consumption of these may increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
  • Chlorogenic acids (CGAs): CGAs are polyphenol antioxidants that may be beneficial for blood sugar metabolism and high blood pressure — both of which are associated with the risk of age-related mental decline.
  • Trigonelline: Trigonelline is an alkaloid compound that is unstable at high heat. Moreover, during roasting, it forms niacin or vitamin B3. This compound also has antibacterial properties that may prevent bacterial growth and protect against dental cavities.

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