New Study: This Hot Beverage May Delay Onset of Alzheimer’s Disease

The Cleveland Clinic and Harvard have praised this drink's healthy perks. Now Italian research indicates that steaming cup you love could help ward off Alzheimer's disease.

There may be one more reason the Italians are known for staying healthy and active into old age. A new study suggests that one particular daily drink could serve as more than just a caffeine boost—it might also help in fending off Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that World Health Organization data suggests affects 55 million people worldwide, a figure that’s prompting intensive scientific investigation into preventative measures including everything from a new Alzheimer’s blood test to the diet and lifestyle habits that play a role.

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Espresso compounds and tau protein aggregation

The study was published in July 2023 in the Journal of Agriculture and Chemistry—a publication of the American Chemical Society—and highlights the role of certain compounds in espresso relating to the aggregation of tau proteins. These proteins, essential for stabilizing structures in the brain, become tangled clusters in Alzheimer’s patients. This phenomenon is believed to contribute notably to the disease’s progression.

This innovative study, led by biochemist Mariapina D’Onofrio, PhD at the University of Verona in Italy, analyzed the chemical composition of espresso shots, specifically focusing on caffeine and trigonelline (both alkaloids), the flavonoid genistein, and theobromine, a compound also present in chocolate. The research team observed how each of these molecules interacted with a shortened form of tau protein.

The study revealed that as the concentrations of espresso extract, caffeine, or genistein rose, the tau protein fibrils—which are typically associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s—became smaller and refrained from developing into larger, potentially harmful structures. The entire espresso extract was found to have the most pronounced effects, suggesting that espresso compounds might interfere with the destructive cycle of the disease.

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Brain benefits from coffee

Renowned health institutions, including the Cleveland Clinic, Harvard Health, and the Mayo Clinic, have acknowledged the health benefits linked with moderate coffee consumption. This equates to around three to five standard cups of coffee per day, or 400 milligrams of caffeine. However, these organizations also advise moderation, as excessive intake can trigger anxiety, insomnia, and a rapid heart rate.

The benefits of regular coffee intake are manifold, and it is becoming increasingly evident that coffee—and espresso in particular—might offer substantial advantages when it comes to the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Devon Peart, RD, MHSc, BASc, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic, emphasizes that coffee is more than just a delightful beverage: It’s a robust source of beneficial compounds. Among these are B vitamins, potassium, and riboflavin, along with phenolic compounds that assist the body in battling stress and inflammation.

In addition to the compounds that espresso may deliver to fend off tau proteins, another specific benefit of a shot may be the fact that it’s often served solo, without indulgent condiments. Even if you’re not a fan of a straight shot, Harvard Health‘s blog advises paying close attention to how you enjoy your coffee. If it’s topped with whipped cream and drizzled with flavored syrup, those extra calories, sugar, and saturated fat could offset the potential health benefits of a simple cup of  coffee with a little milk…or an espresso shot.

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What these findings imply for future research

While these initial findings were in vitro and require further testing in live subjects, they nonetheless provide a hopeful trajectory in the ongoing battle against Alzheimer’s. The observed interactions between caffeine, espresso extract, and pre-formed tau fibrils offer an exciting field of research.

This work may eventually lead to discovering or designing other bioactive compounds capable of combating neurodegenerative diseases. The implications of this research suggest that your morning espresso might pack a more potent punch than just the wake-up call you crave.

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Dr. Patricia Varacallo, DO
Tricia is a doctor of osteopathy with experience in primary healthcare. She received her medical degree from the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine and conducts clinical research in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, as she is motivated by the desire to contribute to the development of innovative treatments and therapies. She is also a certified lifestyle coach for the CDC-recognized National Diabetes Prevention Program, empowering individuals to make lasting, healthy lifestyle changes. Dr. Varacallo loves to write— especially about health, wellness, and grief. Drawing from her own experiences of loss and caregiving, she loves to offer support and encouragement to those navigating their own grief journeys. Outside of her professional life, she enjoys traveling and exploring the sunny beaches of Florida with her significant other, always ready for their next adventure.