Study links coffee consumption with lower brain health and dementia


In the largest study of its kind, the University of South Australia (UniSA) has found a link between high coffee consumption, smaller total brain volumes and increased dementia risk.

“Coffee is among the most popular drinks in the world. Yet with global consumption being more than nine billion kilograms a year, it’s critical that we understand any potential health implications,” says Kitty Pham, Lead Researcher and UniSA PhD candidate.

The effects of coffee on the brain was assessed in 17,702 Uni Biobank participants aged between 37 and 73. The United Kingdom BioBank is a large-scale biomedical database which, according to the organisation, contains genetic and health information on half a million UK participants.

Of those assessed, it was found that individuals who drank more than six cups of coffee per day had a 53 per cent increased risk in Dementia.

Kitty says the research provides important insights into public health.

“This is the most extensive investigation into the connections between coffee, brain volume measurements, the risks of dementia, and the risks of stroke – it’s also the largest study to consider volumetric brain imaging data and a wide range of confounding factors,” says Kitty.

A team of international researchers conducted the study at the UniSA’s Australian Centre for Precision Health at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, which is South Australia’s first independent health and medical research institute.

“Accounting for all possible permutations, we consistently found that higher coffee consumption was significantly associated with reduced brain volume – essentially, drinking more than six cups of coffee a day may be putting you at risk of brain diseases such as dementia and stroke,” says Kitty.

Dementia is a degenerative brain condition that impacts memory, thinking, behaviour, and the ability to perform daily tasks. Roughly 50 million people are diagnosed with it worldwide and it is the second leading cause of death in Australia.

Stroke is a condition where the blood supply to the brain is disrupted resulting in a lack of oxygen. This can cause brain damage and loss of function.

With one in four adults across the globe over the age of 25 having one stroke in their lifetime, Professor Elina Hyppönen, Senior investigator and Director of UniSA’s Australian Centre for Precision Health says it is all about finding the right balance between what people consume and what is good for their health.

“This research provides vital insights about heavy coffee consumption and brain health, but as with many things in life, moderation is the key,” Elina says.

“Together with other genetic evidence and a randomised controlled trial, these data strongly suggest that high coffee consumption can adversely affect brain health. While the exact mechanisms are not known, one simple thing we can do is to keep hydrated and remember to drink a bit of water alongside that cup of coffee.”

Elina adds that while a couple cups of coffee a day is generally fine, daily consumption of above six cups or more requires some rethinking.

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