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Drinking This Many Cups Of Coffee A Day Enhances Brain Function, Research Finds


Jenny Fant

mbg Health Contributor

By Jenny Fant

mbg Health Contributor

Jenny is a San Francisco-based mbg contributor, content designer, and climate & sustainability communications specialist. She is a graduate of the University of California Santa Barbara. An avid open-water swimmer, Jenny has worked for healthy living and nutrition brands like Sun Basket, Gather Around Nutrition, and Territory Foods.

Image by Victor Torres / Stocksy

Coffee, in the right amounts, is verifiably good for us. In addition to perking us up whenever needed, it can reduce all-cause mortality and help us live longer1, ease inflammation2, and lower the risk of diabetes3. And now, new science shows us how it might improve our brain structure.

The magic number

An exploratory population-based study4 out of Hamburg, Germany, recently looked at the brains of over 2,000 people between the ages of 45 and 74. It compared four groups of people who said they regularly drank:

Less than 1 cup of coffee per day1–2 cups of coffee per day3–4 cups of coffee per day5–6 cups of coffee per day

The study found that people who regularly drank three to four cups of coffee per day (writer proudly raises her hand) had the strongest brain structure when looking at several factors including preserved cortical thickness5, which is generally associated with higher intelligence.

The improvement was seen trending upward from those who drank no coffee to those who drank more, progressing at each tier but then leveling out once people hit three to four cups of coffee per day, suggesting a threshold for brain health and cognition benefits.

However, the study design wasn’t perfect. The authors noted that the study was performed on a relatively small and homogenous group. They also pointed out that those who drank more coffee tended to be healthier and more highly educated to begin with, and these potential confounding factors could not be ruled out. They also wrote that more research was needed to determine whether decaffeinated coffee has similar effects.

Even so, these initial findings add to a large body of evidence supporting the notion that coffee is good for your brain and overall health. 

Coffee has been shown to slow down cognitive decline6 and potentially reduce the risks of both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease7. Additionally, a 2017 meta-analysis of coffee’s health8 effects found coffee to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as neurological, metabolic, and liver conditions. Although not all of these studies considered the exact number of cups of coffee, several of them reference the three- to four-cup threshold for optimal benefits.

Drink up

Whether you’re a regular patron of your neighborhood coffee shop, a frequenter of the office coffee station, or an avid at-home brewer, this new research suggests the habit is improving your brain structure—and going back for that third or fourth could have an even bigger effect.

Just be sure to cut off your caffeine consumption earlier in the day so you don’t disrupt your rest (which has negative effects on brain health), and stop sipping if you ever feel jitters, anxiousness, or a racing heart.

Other ways to support brain health daily include prioritizing sleep, staying active, and learning new things. Incorporating a memory supplement into your routine can also be hugely beneficial, no matter your age. Look for one that features neuroprotective ingredients proven to support cognitive vitality and performance. Here are 16 of the best brain supplements for keeping your memory and overall brain health sharp without having to ever step foot in a coffee shop.

The takeaway

New research out of Germany explores how varying levels of coffee intake affect the structure of our brains. Early results suggest three to four cups per day might be the magic number for preserving critical brain structures, helping improve cognition and overall brain function.

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