In excess, it can do more harm than good. Coffee can have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the body. According to Nina Riggins, MD, Director of the Center for Headaches and Brain Injury at the University of California, San Diego, and a member of the American Neurological Association, coffee improves alertness, concentration, and mood.
Moreover, moderate coffee consumption may reduce the risk of neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, according to a review published in April 2017 in the Archives of Medical Science.
And all of these benefits can be yours if you drink coffee the right way. Yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. And the latter can be dangerous for your brain. Here, Dr. Riggins discusses common coffee-related mistakes that can minimize your cognitive abilities, as well as what to do instead to keep your brain in top shape.
Drinking too much
While coffee in moderation can have protective properties for brain health, in excess it can do more harm than good.
A case in point: a June 2021 study by Nutritional Neuroscience found that drinking more than six cups of coffee a day was associated with a smaller total brain volume and a 53 percent increased risk of dementia.
Drinking too late
You may use the energy-boosting caffeine to help you deal with the midday slump, but that late cup can make you too nervous instead of calming you down for bed. That’s because caffeine, which is a stimulant, stays in your bloodstream long after you’ve taken your last sip.
According to Dr. Riggins, the half-life of caffeine is approximately five hours. This means that it can take twice as long to completely cleanse your system-10 hours. This is why drinking coffee during the day can be problematic for sleep. And here’s the thing: poor sleep is bad for brain health. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, sleep deprivation can lead to problems with learning, focus, and reaction time.
According to the National Institutes of Health, over time, sleepless nights can even increase the accumulation of beta-amyloid, a protein in the brain associated with cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.
A lot of sugar
Drinking sugary coffee may not do your brain any good. Indeed, a July 2019 study in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging found that excessive sugar consumption in older adults is associated with poor cognitive function. According to Harvard Medical School, any person, with chronically high blood sugar levels can reduce the size of the brain, affect its functionality, and lead to small vessel disease.
Abruptly getting rid of the habit
Trying to curb your caffeine habit? It may be better to gradually wean yourself off. If you are a regular coffee drinker, you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you give it up right away. “When dialysis removes caffeine from the body, a person may develop caffeine withdrawal headaches,” says Dr. Riggins.
In addition, rapid caffeine withdrawal can also lead to problems with concentration, according to the Cleveland Clinic.