Study results suggest coffee may help reduce some cognitive decline, but further research needed

May 11, 2016

New study looks at relationship between coffee consumption, cognitive functions, and strokes

A new study of 2,914 middle-aged and older adults suggests that higher coffee consumption (more than 3 cups per day) may help improve some cognitive functions, and may lower the occurrence of a type of stroke called a lacunar infarct1. The new study adds to a wider body of research suggesting that coffee may help protect against the risk of strokes and neurodegenerative disorders. The study, Association of coffee consumption with MRI markers and cognitive function – A population-based study2, by authors predominantly based at Erasmus University Medical Center, explored the effect of coffee consumption on cognitive performance and biomarkers3 of dementia using data from the population-based Rotterdam Study. The research recorded coffee consumption, performed brain MRI scans, and assessed cognitive function, both at baseline and five years later to determine change. The study participants, 55% of whom were women, had an average age of 59.

Results – coffee consumption and strokes

The paper found that higher coffee consumption was associated with a lower occurrence of lacunar infarcts, and suggests that this relationship may be related to coffee’s beneficial effect on cardiovascular health. A potential underlying mechanism may be coffee’s anti-inflammatory properties, which could have a protective effect against lacunar infarcts. The authors refer to other studies that also associate coffee consumption with a decreased risk of clinical strokes.

Results – coffee consumption and cognitive function

Participants in the study who consumed more than 3 cups of coffee per day performed better on tests relating to executive function (the ability to carry out complex tasks, such as solving new problems4), compared to those who consumed 0-1 cups per day. However, they performed worse on tests relating to memory and recall. The authors state that they found no association between long-term cognitive change and coffee consumption, reflecting their own previous research5.

Higher coffee consumption was also associated with smaller hippocampal volumes (the part of the brain associated with memory6). Smaller hippocampal volumes have not previously been associated with higher coffee consumption and the authors recommend that more investigation is needed to understand these results.

The body of research to date suggests that moderate coffee consumption may have a beneficial effect on cognitive abilities, including a protective effect against the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease7.

Despite the study’s large sample size, the results are complex and the authors point to a number of limiting factors, including a lack of information on how participants prepared their coffee, the type of coffee they drank, and their consumption habits between the initial tests and the follow-up five years later. The paper concludes with a recommendation for more long-term studies into the effect of coffee on preclinical neurodegenerative disease.


For queries relating to the research, please contact author Dr. M. Arfan Ikram, Department of Epidemiology, Erasmus University Medical Center Rotterdam:
Tel: +31 10 7043930


  1. Radiopaedia, ‘Lacunar infarct’. Available at
  2. Araújo L.F, et al (2016) Association of Coffee Consumption with MRI Markers and Cognitive Function: A Population-Based Study. J Alzheimers Dis, published online ahead of print.
  3. Strimbu K. and Tavel J.A. (2010) What are Biomarkers? Curr Opin HIV AIDS,1097/COH.0b013e32833ed177.
  4. Elliott R. (2003) Executive functions and their disorders: Imaging in clinical neuroscience. Br Med Bull, 65(1):49-59.
  5. Mirza S.S. et al. (2014) Coffee consumption and incident dementia. Eur J Epidemiol, 29,735–741.
  6. News Medical, ‘Hippocampus Functions’. Available at
  7. ISIC, ‘Neurodegenerative disorders – Conclusion’. Available at

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