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Study Shows Drinking Too Much Coffee Can Lead To Brain Shrinkage

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Americans love their coffee. In fact, seven out of 10 drink it every single day, averaging three cups daily. From the pick-me-up that it offers to heart health benefits, coffee has a lot going for it. But according to one new study, drinking too much coffee could lead to serious consequences for your brain.

Too Much Of A Good Thing

Over the past 12 years, an Australian research team has been collecting data about the coffee habits of more than 398,000 adults who enrolled in a British study. According to their findings published in the Nutritional Neuroscience journal, drinking more than six cups of java per day was associated with a 53% increased risk of dementia and a smaller brain volume.

Participants who reported drinking more than six cups a day had “notable increases” in the odds of dementia compared to those who drank one or two cups daily.

Even when researchers accounted for different lifestyles and other factors like age and gender, their findings held true. The MRI scans showed that the more coffee people drank, the more brain shrinkage they experienced.

Brain Shrinkage Is Normal

The authors of the study clarified that the results of their research don’t necessarily prove causation. In other words, drinking more than six cups of coffee daily doesn’t directly correlate to brain shrinkage or dementia. However, there appears to be a correlation between high amounts of coffee consumption and brain health.

As Eating Well points out, all humans actually experience some reduction in their brain volume as they age. However, “quicker and higher amounts of brain volume less could lead to earlier dementia.”

How Much Is Too Much?

Elina Hypponen, study co-author and director of the Australian Centre for Precision Health at the University of South Australia Cancer Research Institute, told Today that as with most things in life, “moderation is key” when it comes to drinking coffee.

“Very high coffee intakes are unlikely to be good for you,” Hypponen said. But she didn’t quantify exactly how much is too much. But we’re assuming six cups a day isn’t the best way to go.

What About The Caffeine?

Dr. Amy Guzik, a neurologist at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, reviewed the study, and she says that it’s common knowledge that coffee affects the brain.

“We feel it with increased concentration or attention when we have a cup of coffee or tea, and that’s not concerning to me, but too much of anything is probably not good,” Dr. Guzik said.

Image of woman holding coffee
(YAKOBCHUK VIACHESLAV / Shutterstock)

What she did find concerning was the “very high levels of caffeine intake” from drinking six cups of coffee or more each day.

“This study reinforces that perhaps very high levels of caffeine intake—over six cups of coffee a day—would be concerning and would be a reason to be talking to your doctor if you’re having memory trouble,” Dr. Guzik said.

The findings of the study suggest that keeping your caffeine intake below 300 milligrams per day is probably best. That’s the amount of caffeine you would find in four, eight-ounce cups. The US Food and Drug Administration recommends a maximum of 400 milligrams of caffeine daily for healthy adults.

But of course, most coffee mugs in the US hold between 12 and 16 ounces. Not to mention those hot ventis at Starbucks hold 20 ounces, which is something we need to keep in mind.

If you are over-consuming caffeine, it can cause jitters and anxiousness and have your heart racing. Too much caffeine can also cause insomnia, nausea, headache, and an upset stomach.

The Benefits of Drinking Coffee

However, caffeine isn’t terrible if consumed moderately.

For Americans, coffee is the number one source of antioxidants, which have a number of potential health benefits. People who drink regular, moderate amounts of coffee are also less likely to die from diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses.

Another study in the journal Practical Neurology found that a cup of coffee can be a mood booster. It can make you feel more alert, assist with concentration, and reduce feelings of depression, thanks to the caffeine.

The research shows that drinking coffee in moderation can also lead to a longer life, a healthier liver, and a reduced risk for heart disease.

The main message here is that those of us who enjoy drinking coffee regularly shouldn’t worry about it being harmful for our health as long as we keep it in moderation. Six cups every day is probably too much—especially when the coffee is loaded with cream and sugar.

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