Your Brain on Brew

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Deja brew! Have I already had one cup or two? If you’re about to grab another cup of Joe, perhaps you should read this study first.

While America’s favorite morning beverage has some great health benefits including reduced risk of liver disease, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, moderation is key.

A new study out of the University of South Australia finds that coffee in excess may have a negative impact on brain health. Researchers discovered that high coffee intake is linked with smaller total brain volume and higher risk of dementia. This is the largest study of its kind. 

The study was done at UniSA’s Australian Center for Precision Health at SAHMRI by a group of international scientists. The researchers evaluated the impact of coffee on the brains of over 17,700 UK Biobank subjects aged 37 to 73. Results of the study indicate that those who consumed over 6 cups of coffee per day had a 53% increased risk of dementia

Kitty Pham, UniSA PhD candidate and lead researcher notes the study suggests important information for public health. Per Dr. Pham, “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,”.

This study is the most extensive research into the association between coffee, brain volume size, and risks of dementia and stroke. The study also reviewed the volumetric imaging data and a variety of confounding variables. 

Considering many variables, the scientists continually found that higher coffee intake was significantly linked with reduced brain volume. In a nutshell, having over 6 cups of java per day could put you at risk for brain disease, including dementia and stroke.

Dementia is a progressive, damaging brain condition that impacts thinking, behavior, memory and the ability to do normal, everyday tasks. Roughly 50 million people are diagnosed with this debilitating condition globally. Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia, where an estimated 250 people are diagnosed daily.

When the blood supply to the brain is impaired, leading to oxygen deprivation, a stroke can occur. A stroke can result in brain damage and loss of brain function. Across the world, one out of four adults older than 25 will suffer a stroke in their lifetime. Research suggests that over 13 million people will experience a stroke this year, with over 5 million dying due to stroke. 

Professor Elina Hypponen, the director of UniSA’s Australian Center for Precision Health and senior researcher of the study, notes that being moderate about coffee consumption is key to good health. 

Along with hereditary data and randomized controlled trials, this research strongly correlates high coffee intake with adverse effects on the brain. While the exact cause is unknown, individuals should stay hydrated by drinking more water and limiting coffee consumption. 

Average daily coffee intake is typically between one and two standard cups of coffee (6- to 8-ounce cups). While the size of the cup may vary, a few cups of coffee per day is considered safe

If you're worried about your coffee consumption, these tips might help you cut back!

By Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD


  1. Poole R, Kennedy OJ, Roderick P, Fallowfield JA, Hayes PC, Parkes J. Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes. BMJ. 2017 Nov 22;359:j5024. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j5024. Erratum in: BMJ. 2018 Jan 12;360:k194. 
  2. Kitty Pham, Anwar Mulugeta, Ang Zhou, John T. O’Brien, David J. Llewellyn & Elina Hyppönen (2021) High coffee consumption, brain volume and risk of dementia and stroke, Nutritional Neuroscience, DOI: 1080/1028415X.2021.1945858
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