For a few years now, I’ve been telling my over-40 patients that a little regular coffee is perfectly fine to include in their diet. It has research-proven brain boosting properties like quicker, clearer thinking and memory retention. However, after reading the results of recent research, I’m also telling my patients to add some decaf to their routine as well. Here’s why.
Regular vs. Decaf For Your Brain and General Health
Many previous research studies involving coffee’s effect on the brain have involved regular, caffeinated coffee. It was assumed that caffeine was to be credited for coffee’s brain-boosting effect. In addition, regular coffee has also been attributed to other health benefits like preventing type 2 diabetes as it helps lower blood sugar levels by optimizing insulin outputs. Type 2 diabetes puts you at a greater risk for developing Alzheimer disease and other neurological conditions. It was concluded, then, that drinking a little regular coffee a day could ward off both type 2 diabetes and lower the risk for these neurological diseases.
However, in his recent book, Your Brain on Food, Dr. Gary L. Wenk Ph.D, states that decaf coffee can be just as good for your brain as regular coffee without the side effects. In addition, recent research out of Mount Sinai’s School of Medicine agrees that decaf coffee, particularly decaf green coffee, may also be the better choice for two reasons:
- Complications from too much caffeine on heart function. Too much caffeine can cause heart rhythm disturbances, dilated blood vessels and blood pressure spikes.
- Decaf green coffee contains caffeic acid (not the same as caffeine), and phenolic compounds such as chlorogenic acid and quinolactones – natural plant chemicals that seem to boost brain energy metabolism. Although traditional decaf coffees still have some of these compounds in them, decaf green coffee has higher amounts of these compounds. Impaired energy metabolism in the brain is associated with higher risk for developing degenerative diseases of the brain such as Alzheimers, Parkinsons, memory loss, and forms of dementia.
What Is Green Coffee?
As green coffee was used in the research studies noted above, I’d like to tell you a little bit about what green coffee is and how you can get it. Green coffee refers to coffee beans that are purchased unroasted. The roasting process is then left to the end consumer who chooses their own method of roasting their coffee beans. There are several methods of roasting green coffee beans. The advantage of using green coffee beans is that they are a much fresher variety of coffee beans and stay fresher longer in their unroasted state. Green coffee roasters can be purchased from coffee brewing equipment outlets or on the internet.
Green coffee extract can also be purchased in pill form to break into a cup of hot water, much like making instant coffee from a packet. These contain from 100-500 mg dosages of green coffee extract. In addition to the brain boosting health benefits, the chlorogenic acid in green coffee extract is a strong antioxidant that can benefit cell growth, skin, weight loss, blood pressure control, blood sugar control.
Green coffee extract is low in caffeine and, therefore, does not have the side effects associated with caffeine consumption. For most people, there should be no negative side effects. However, you may want to consult your doctor about its use if you take any prescription drugs.
How To Reap the Most Benefits from Coffee
Both regular and decaf types of coffee have been research proven to give health benefits. Therefore, I feel it may be in your best health interests to make the most of what both have to offer. That said, typical grocery store bought decaf is not your best bet as some brands contain chemicals from the decaffeinating process. Be sure to read labels to understand the decaffeinated process used in the decaf coffee you purchase. Here’s what I recommend to reap the most health benefits from decaffeinated and regular coffees:
1. Regular coffee consumption: Limit to 2-4 cups, or 200-400 mg caffeine, a day. Although some people seem to handle more caffeine without side effects, it may be that their bodies are just used to the effects. Still, damage to heart vessels and chronic spikes in blood pressure could be occurring. Other ill effects could be insomnia, restlessness, irritability, muscle twitches, or dehydration if you consume too much caffeine. Remember to drink 1 extra 8 ounce glass of water for every cup of regular coffee. Also, using a good, non-bleached, (brown) paper coffee filter, especially if you have high cholesterol concerns. Studies show that drinking large amounts of unfiltered coffee can cause mild elevations of cholesterol.
2. Decaf coffee consumption: I recommend using organic decaffeinated coffees, or decaf made from a water or CO2 (carbon dioxide) method. These do not contain the chemicals that can be used in the decaffeinating process such as methyl chloride and ethyl acetate. Don’t be fooled by labels that state “naturally decaffeinated” as this is usually an ethyl acetate method. Although some sources state that these chemicals are supposedly destroyed in the roasting process, still others state that residues from these chemicals remain. Unless you were going to test your brewed decaf for these chemicals before drinking, I think it safer to avoid them altogether.
3. Half-caff coffee consumption: Get the best of both regular and decaf at once. Make your own half-caff using regular coffee and organic, chemical-free decaf half and half.
As I advise my patients, coffee drinking can be a pleasurable, as well as healthy, addition to your daily routine. As I stated earlier, I feel that both regular and decaf varieties offer their own particular health benefits. However, I recommend you limit your intake of regular coffee to prevent possible health-damaging side effects.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
Decaffeinated Coffee May Boost Brain Metabolism and Functions: Mouse Study, http://www.nutraingredients.com/Research/Decaffeinated-coffee-may-boost-brain-metabolism-and-functions-Mouse-Study
Coffee and Health, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/coffee-and-health/AN01354
Decaff Processes for Coffee, http://coffeetime.wikidot.com/decaffeination-processes
What Is Green Coffee Extract?, http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-green-coffee-extract.htm
Why Decaf is Just as Healthy, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-food/201105/why-decaf-coffee-is-just-healthy
photo credit: thefitnesschronicle.com