A rigorous new study from researchers at Rutgers offers insight into the oft-cited correlation between coffee consumption and a decreased risk of developing Parkinson's disease. The discovery reveals how a coffee compound called EHT works synergistically with caffeine to potentially protect the brain from neurodegeneration.
Alongside chocolate and red wine, coffee is one of those dietary ingredients on which we are constantly seeing a torrent of research studies published every week. Many of these studies are based questionable observational research suggesting statistical correlations that really don't amount to very much. However we are slowly seeing a better volume of science trying to understand the molecular mechanisms these foods trigger that may cause either beneficial or negative effects.
Coffee and dementia prevention is one of those long-standing anecdotal correlations that until recently hasn't had a large amount of solid scientific evidence to back it up. Some new studies have been working to understand exactly what compounds in coffee could be potentially preventing conditions such as dementia and Parkinson's disease.
The bulk of research into the potential beneficial effects of coffee has concentrated on caffeine, that wonderful stimulant we yearn for every morning. The new Rutgers research hypothesized that since coffee beans contain over a thousand other compounds, many barely studied by scientists, it was highly possible there were other substances that play a role in the drink's potential cognitive protections.
The researchers focused on a compound called Eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide (EHT), a fatty acid derivative of the neurotransmitter serotonin, primarily found in the waxy coating of the coffee bean. EHT is structurally completely different to caffeine, and prior research has revealed the compound exhibits both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
The goal of the new study was to discover whether administering caffeine and EHT together resulted in better brain protection as opposed to each compound administered alone. In mouse models of Parkinson's disease the results clearly indicate that there does seem to be some kind of synergistic effect between the two compounds that results in protective biochemical and molecular changes in the brain.
The researchers do note that the method of preparing coffee can effect the levels of EHT in the final product so prior observational studies into coffee drinkers around the world may have resulted in inconsistent results, assuming EHT is an important beneficial component of coffee. Lead author on the new research, Maral Mouradian, says the next stage of the research is to better understand the optimal levels of EHT and caffeine needed to result in the best neuroprotective effects.
"EHT is a compound found in various types of coffee but the amount varies," says Mouradian. "It is important that the appropriate amount and ratio be determined so people don't over-caffeinate themselves, as that can have negative health consequences."
The new study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Source: Rutgers Today
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