In addition to the glow of our morning and our keeping going all day, coffee has been shown to have many health benefits: For one, its caffeine content is believed to improve alertness and short-term memory – but studies suggest that coffee can have long-term protection effects on the brain as well.
Coffee consumption was previously linked to a low risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, and now scientists say they might have an idea of why. It appears that phenylindans – chemical compounds that are formed during the brewing process – inhibit the growth of proteins associated with degenerative brain diseases. And the more darker the cakes, they say, the more of these protective compounds are in each cup.
For the new study, published in Borders in Neuroscience, researchers at the Brain Krembil Institute in Toronto analyzed the chemical components of three different samples of Starbucks through instant coffee: light steak, dark cake and dark decoffin cake. They then exposed the extracts from each sample to two types of proteins – amyloid beta and tau – which are known to be distinctive signs of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. Studies have shown that as these conditions progress, these proteins tend to form some clumps (known as amyloid plaques and protein tangles) in the cream.
Related: Why hot coffee could be healthier than cold Brew
All three coffee extracts have prevented the "pooling" of these proteins, suggesting that something in America's favorite morning preparation may be protective against disease progression. And because researchers have not noticed any difference in the efficacy of regular preparations against decaf, they have found it possible not caffeine that offers these benefits.
However, they observed more inhibitory effects from the two dark steaks compared to light steaks. This has prompted researchers to think about the phenylindan compounds that are formed from the collapse of acids during coffee roasting, which are largely responsible for the bitter taste of coffee.
Phenyl indides are found in higher concentrations in coffee with higher frying times, such as dark steaks and espresso. They have been shown to have a "surprisingly powerful antioxidant activity," wrote the authors in the paper, but their ability to interact with amyloid proteins and tau has not been previously reported.
In other laboratory studies, they found that a mixture of phenylindan prevented, indeed, the blockade of disease-related proteins; in fact it was no more the studied compound that had an effect on amyloid proteins as well as on your tau. For your proteins, it showed more intense levels of inhibition than any other investigated compound.
Related to: Here's what happened when I gave coffee for a week
Since both dark roasted coffee extracts have shown stronger levels of protein inhibition than light roast, the authors have suggested that it is the phenylindanic coffee component that is "largely responsible" for this effect. (And good news for coffee consumers: Because the disinfection process happens before roasting process, the authors assume that it does not affect the levels of phenylindan.)
This does not necessarily mean that everyone should start drinking espresso coffee or roast coffee extra coffee. Research is still preliminary, according to lead author Donald Weaver, MD, co-director of the Brain Krembil Institute, and many are still unclear about how these compounds actually work in the human body. (In addition, other research has suggested that lighter steaks have higher levels different beneficial compounds, so it could still be a disincentive to general health.)
Related: 8 strange things about memory loss later in life
Weaver said in a press release that he hoped that this research would lead to further study of phenylindoles and possibly to the development of drugs that could be used to treat neurodegenerative diseases. He also said that it is good to know that coffee has these good natural properties, even if there is not enough evidence to drink for these reasons alone.
"What this study is doing is to take epidemiological evidence and try to refine it and demonstrate that there really are coffee components that are beneficial to prevent cognitive decline," Weaver said. "It's interesting, but do we suggest that coffee is a cure? Absolutely not."
Experts say the best way to protect yourself against age growth is to follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly and sleep a lot. And if it turns out that a daily cup of joe fits in this plane, we are certainly all for that.
To get the best stories delivered in your inbox, sign up Healthy life news