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New study says coffee and tea can keep you awake now and alert in the future

The study found participants who drank the most coffee or tea, four to six cups a day, tended to have the lowest rates of stroke or dementia.
The study found participants who drank the most coffee or tea, four to six cups a day, tended to have the lowest rates of stroke or dementia.

That morning shot of stimulation you get from coffee or tea may be great for your brain in more ways than one.

A recent study published in the PLOS Medicine Journal of healthy people between 50 to 74 said drinking either beverage could lower the risk of stroke and dementia.

KERA’s Sam Baker talked with geriatric specialist Dr. Diana Kerwin about what could make that possible.


How coffee or tea lowers the risk of dementia.

I think it's the antioxidants. There are several health benefits that have come out in different studies related to coffee:

  • Reduced risk of Parkinson's disease
  • Reduced risk of dementia
  • Reduced risk of colon cancer

It's not necessarily the caffeine because there are some studies, such as in colon cancer, where it can be decaf or caffeinated coffee, but there appears to be a reduction in inflammation that coffee and tea can provide better metabolism of sugars. There's also a decreased risk of diabetes when you do consume more coffee and tea, and then also helping to metabolize glucose.
Does it matter what you put in the coffee or tea? 

Having the coffee and tea without a lot of extra sugar and without a lot of added cream or fat would be better for brain health because that's likely going to counteract or really negate any of the health benefits.

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Does the amount you consume make a difference?

When you went between one to two cups of coffee or tea a day, there actually wasn't much of a benefit that was slightly a negative benefit. And then as you went up over two cups per day all the way up to six cups, you had increased benefit the more you consume.

This study was done in the United Kingdom, where they do tend to be more of a tea-drinking society than the United States. But they do drink a combination of coffee and tea, probably more so than we do in the United States. It does seem like it's a lot, but I would say these are regular small cups. So these are smaller when you look at the total ounces compared to what most of us consume during the day and liquids, it's actually probably not as much as it appears.

I would, though, worry for some people if this is caffeinated coffee and tea. Drinking four to six cups of caffeine a day is quite a bit for someone who is older. If you do have a history of heart palpitations or fast heart rate or anything, I would kind of temper it. But if you're already drinking two to three cups of coffee or tea a day, you're kind of in that beneficial zone.

For good brain health, what foods should people lean towards and those that they should avoid?

A general brain health diet is:

  • Low in processed sugars and flour, so it's really low in carbohydrates.
  • Rich with vegetables and fruits. A lot of fruits and vegetables have antioxidants, fiber, and a lot of vitamins.
  • And then very lean, healthy meat. Some type of fish, which has some omega-three fatty acids, or lean chicken.

And so the brain-healthy diet is something we call the MIND diet. Developed at Rice University in Chicago and showed that if you followed this mind diet, you can reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Add to that, good blood pressure and cholesterol control and some type of moderate exercise regimen, you can actually really start to reduce your risk significantly for each individual.


The Health Benefits of Coffee

9 Reasons Why (the Right Amount of) Coffee Is Good for You

Caffeine has positive effect on memory, Johns Hopkins researchers say

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.