Researchers at Indiana University discovered that caffeine and 23 other compounds kick-start an enzyme known as nicotinamide mononucleotide adenylyl transferase 2, or NMNAT2, and it's this compound that scientists say may block the effects of neurodegenerative disorders.
To identify substances with the potential to produce the NMNAT2 enzyme in the brain, the scientists screened over 1,280 compounds, including existing drugs, in order to identify 24 compounds that could potentially increase the enzyme's production.
The study,1 led by Hui-Chen Lu of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, followed research done by Lu's team in 2016,2 which found that the NMNAT2 enzyme not only protects neurons in the brain from stress but binds to tau proteins via the "chaperone function."
The enzyme prevents tau, which is similar to plaques that accumulate in the brain due to aging, from misfolding and causing subsequent cell death.
Misfolded proteins are implicated in such neurodegenerative disorders as Parkinson's, Huntington's and Alzheimer's diseases, as well as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease.
Dementia, Alzheimer's and How They Might Be Prevented
Dementia is a group of symptoms, not a disease in itself, associated with diminished cognitive skills such as memory, reasoning and communication, severe enough to interfere with daily activities.3
Alzheimer's is the most common type of dementia, which worsens over time, and accounts for as much as 80 percent of known dementia cases. It affects more than 5.4 million people in the U.S., and the number of people affected is expected to triple by 2050.4 Medical News Today notes that:
"Though researchers are still unclear on the precise causes of Alzheimer's, it is known that the condition arises as a result of brain cell death. The formation of 'tangles,' which are misfolded strands of a protein called tau, is believed to play a role in brain cell death."5Science is still at a loss in regard to what causes Alzheimer's, but the fact that it stems from brain cell death due to the "tangling" of tau proteins is an important clue in getting to the bottom of how to keep it from happening, reversing it or lessening its effects.
The Significance of NMNAT2 for 'Blocking' Dementia
The Epoch Times noted:
"Lu's earlier research found that mice altered to produce misfolded tau also produced lower levels of NMNAT2.Other compounds also gave NMNAT2 a production boost, such as rolipram, an "orphaned" antidepressant discontinued since the mid-1990s, a few other drugs and retinoic acid, which is derived from vitamin A. However, caffeine was found to be one of the most effective at increasing NMNAT2 production.
To confirm the effect of caffeine, researchers administered caffeine to mice modified to produce lower levels of NMNAT2. As a result, the mice began to produce the same levels of the enzyme as normal mice."6
Significantly, 13 other compounds were identified that actually lowered this important enzyme's production. They're important, Lu says, because they help researchers understand how they might contribute to dementia. According to Lu:
"This work could help advance efforts to develop drugs that increase levels of this enzyme in the brain, creating a chemical 'blockade' against the debilitating effects of neurodegenerative disorder.
Increasing our knowledge about the pathways in the brain that appear to naturally cause the decline of this necessary protein is equally as important as identifying compounds that could play a role in future treatment of these debilitating mental disorders."7
How Your Morning Brew Might Benefit Your Health
As previously mentioned, coffee was one of the 24 substances that increased NMNAT2 formation to effectively inhibit neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia.
While Lu says knowing this information will help other scientists create drugs to increase levels of the NMNAT2 enzyme for the purposes of combating dementia, coffee has been identified as having other substances that are useful. A plethora of studies indicate that coffee offers benefits in cancer prevention and treatment.
One study showed that drinking four or more cups of caffeinated coffee daily lowered the risk of colon cancer recurrence or death by 52 percent.8 A meta-analysis on coffee and cancer risk published in 2016 concluded with the statement:
"Our study demonstrates that coffee intake can reduce the risk of oral, pharynx cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer, prostate cancer, endometrial cancer and melanoma by 31 percent, 13 percent, 54 percent, 11 percent, 27 percent and 11 percent respectively for the highest versus lowest coffee intake.In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) reversed its longtime position that coffee may cause cancer, and the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reported that coffee consumption may actually help reduce chronic disease.10
Furthermore, coffee intake could reduce the risk of liver cancer, prostate cancer and endometrial cancer by 27 percent, 3 percent and 12 percent with an increment of 2 cups of coffee intake."9
Another study reported that drinking at least five cups of coffee a day reduces the risk of some brain cancers by as much as 40 percent.11
A 2009 study showed that coffee increases the growth of beneficial gut bacteria called Bifidobacterium.12 Other diseases and conditions caffeine has been shown in clinical studies to positively impact include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Parkinson's disease
- Liver, prostate, kidney and colorectal cancers
- Heart rhythm problems
- Beneficial gut bacteria
If you haven't heard how damaging fake creamers and artificial sugars are — in some peoples' minds, the only way to make it palatable — you may want to sit up and take notice. Another way of saying it is: You know what's in your coffee, but do you know what's in your creamer?
- High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), implicated in mitochondrial malfunction
- Dipotassium phosphate, often used in fertilizer and cosmetics
- Partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which contains trans fats, known to cause inflammation
- Mono- and diglycerides may be synthetic, derived from partially hydrogenated oils or both
- Sodium stearoyl lactylate is an additive often used as a cleanser, foaming agent and emulsifier in cosmetics
- Sodium caseinate, often treated with the chemical sodium hydroxide, which can damage or suppress nutrient absorption
Sweeteners for Your Coffee: Best Left Out
Then there's artificial sweeteners, another popular item in coffee circles, which can be worse for you than sugar and fructose. Aspartame, for instance, is shown in numerous studies to increase weight gain, worsen insulin sensitivity and even cause cancer and neurological problems.
While natural sweeteners such as honey and agave syrup may seem to be much healthier than chemically contrived sweeteners, they contain high amounts of fructose and may be highly processed.
If you like your coffee sweetened, you can try the herb stevia, which doesn't raise your blood glucose level like sugar does. It may be one of the safest alternatives for sugar. Luo han guo, also known as monk fruit, is another natural sweetener with this attribute and some say it has a superior flavor.
The Importance of Choosing Organic Shade-Grown Coffee
Conventionally grown coffee is one of the most chemically contaminated foods in the world. In contrast, organic coffee contains no chemicals or synthetic fertilizers. The beans have a richer flavor and come with natural antioxidants. It's healthy for you, more sustainable for the farms that grow it and vastly better for the planet.
Additionally, coffee is a shade-loving plant, but growers often strip forests to make growing and harvesting easier. This destroys the ecological habitat of many natural pest deterrents, such as birds and lizards, while the pests flourish, resulting in additional pesticide use.
The downward spiral to the environment involves chemical run-off, erosion and potentially contaminated water supplies. Organic shade-grown coffee is available at numerous retail markets, but you can also order it online.
1 Scientific Reports March 7, 2017
2 PLOS Biology June 2, 2016
3 Healthline July 29, 2016
4 Alzheimer's Association, 2016 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures
5 Medical News Today March 8, 2017
6, 7 The Epoch Times March 8, 2017
8 The Journal of Clinical Oncology August 17, 2015
9 Scientific Reports September 26, 2016
10 IARC 2017
11 Int J Cancer. 1994 November 1;59(3):357-62
12 Int J Food Microbiol. March 31, 2009