Can drinking a lot of coffee be good for you? A paper published by Poole and colleagues in BMJ last month indicates that drinking three to four cups of coffee per day is linked with a reduction in the risk of various neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD) and depression.

The paper is a systematic review of 201 research articles on coffee and/or caffeine consumption and associated health outcomes. The author found that coffee consumption was more often associated with benefit than harm, and the largest reduction for various health outcomes were observed at three to four cups per day versus none.

In particular, coffee consumption was consistently associated with a lower risk of PD, AD and depression. The reason behind this finding is not clear. As the author pointed out, coffee contains a complex mixture of compounds with different actions on the body. One key property of coffee is its antioxidant effects; both chlorogenic acid – a compound found abundantly in coffee – and caffeine are potent antioxidants, which might explain why coffee lovers tend to have lower risks for these neurological diseases.

However, it is important to note that this study does not necessarily indicate that the relationship between coffee consumption and the associated beneficial health outcome is causal. It could be that coffee drinkers just have different lifestyles than non-coffee drinkers, which is an important contributing factor to consider. The good news is that the study authors found no harmful associations between coffee consumption and mortality, and coffee is generally safe to consume; therefore, it might be useful to assess coffee as an interventional medicine in these and other diseases.

Coffee as an interventional medicine

A separate, smaller study conducted by Hedström and colleagues, which was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, looked at coffee consumption and risk of developing multiple sclerosis (MS). In this study, coffee was also found to be associated with reduced MS risk. Notably, this is an association rather than causation; similar to the effects seen in neurological diseases, it is unclear whether the beneficial effects come from the coffee or from other factors such as different lifestyles.

Nevertheless, the consistent trend is worth considering. Caffeine, as a potent antioxidant, may have immunological and neuroprotective effects. Antioxidants are increasingly being considered as a viable treatment option for progressive types of MS, with pipeline candidates such as MedDay’s MD1003 (biotin) and Santhera’s idebenone (Coenzyme Q10) currently entering late-phase clinical development. As coffee is both safe and popular, GlobalData believes the findings of these two studies to be of particular interest, and anticipates more research on the beverage’s antioxidant effects.

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GlobalData (2017). PharmaPoint: Multiple Sclerosis – Global Drug Forecast and Market Analysis to 2026

GlobalData (2018). PharmaPoint: Parkinson’s Disease – Global Drug Forecast and Market Analysis to 2026, to be published