High Coffee Consumption Linked to Smaller Brain Volume and Increased Dementia Risk

Summary: People who drink six or more cups of coffee a day have a 53% increased risk of developing dementia and a higher risk of stroke, a new study reports.

Source: University of South Australia

It’s a favorite first-order for the day, but while a quick coffee may perk us up, new research from the University of South Australia shows that too much could be dragging us down, especially when it comes to brain health.

In the largest study of its kind, researchers have found that high coffee consumption is associated with smaller total brain volumes and an increased risk of dementia.

Conducted at UniSA’s Australian Centre for Precision Health at SAHMRI and a team of international researchers*, the study assessed the effects of coffee on the brain among 17,702 UK Biobank participants (aged 37-73), finding that those who drank more than six cups of coffee a day had a 53 percent increased risk of dementia.

Lead researcher and UniSA PhD candidate, Kitty Pham, says the research delivers important insights for public health.

“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,” Pham says.

“This is the most extensive investigation into the connections between coffee, brain volume measurements, the risks of dementia, and the risks of stroke – it’s also the largest study to consider volumetric brain imaging data and a wide range of confounding factors.

“Accounting for all possible permutations, we consistently found that higher coffee consumption was significantly associated with reduced brain volume – essentially, drinking more than six cups of coffee a day may be putting you at risk of brain diseases such as dementia and stroke.”

Dementia is a degenerative brain condition that affects memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday tasks. About 50 million people are diagnosed with the syndrome worldwide. In Australia, dementia is the second leading cause of death, with an estimated 250 people diagnosed each day.

Stroke is a condition where the blood supply to the brain is disrupted, resulting in oxygen starvation, brain damage and loss of function. Globally, one in four adults over the age of 25 will have a stroke in their lifetime. Data suggests that 13.7 million people will have a stroke this year with 5.5 million dying as a result.

This shows a cup and coffee beans
“This research provides vital insights about heavy coffee consumption and brain health, but as with many things in life, moderation is the key,” Prof Hyppönen says. Image is in the public domain

Senior investigator and Director of UniSA’s Australian Centre for Precision Health, Professor Elina Hyppönen, says while the news may be a bitter brew for coffee lovers, it’s all about finding a balance between what you drink and what’s good for your health.

“This research provides vital insights about heavy coffee consumption and brain health, but as with many things in life, moderation is the key,” Prof Hyppönen says.

“Together with other genetic evidence and a randomised controlled trial, these data strongly suggest that high coffee consumption can adversely affect brain health. While the exact mechanisms are not known, one simple thing we can do is to keep hydrated and remember to drink a bit of water alongside that cup of coffee.

“Typical daily coffee consumption is somewhere between one and two standard cups of coffee. Of course, while unit measures can vary, a couple of cups of coffee a day is generally fine.

“However, if you’re finding that your coffee consumption is heading up toward more than six cups a day, it’s about time you rethink your next drink.”

About this caffeine and dementia research news

Source: University of South Australia
Contact: Annabel Mansfield – University of South Australia
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original Research: Closed access.
High coffee consumption, brain volume and risk of dementia and stroke” by Kitty Pham et al. Nutritional Neuroscience


High coffee consumption, brain volume and risk of dementia and stroke


Coffee is a highly popular beverage worldwide, containing caffeine which is a central nervous system stimulant.


We examined whether habitual coffee consumption is associated with differences in brain volumes or the odds of dementia or stroke.


We conducted prospective analyses of habitual coffee consumption on 398,646 UK Biobank participants (age 37–73 years), including 17,702 participants with MRI information. We examined the associations with brain volume using covariate adjusted linear regression, and with odds of dementia (4,333 incident cases) and stroke (6,181 incident cases) using logistic regression.


There were inverse linear associations between habitual coffee consumption and total brain (fully adjusted β per cup −1.42, 95% CI −1.89, −0.94), grey matter (β −0.91, 95% CI −1.20, −0.62), white matter (β −0.51, 95% CI −0.83, −0.19) and hippocampal volumes (β −0.01, 95% CI −0.02, −0.003), but no evidence to support an association with white matter hyperintensity (WMH) volume (β −0.01, 95% CI −0.07, 0.05). The association between coffee consumption and dementia was non-linear (Pnon-linearity = 0.0001), with evidence for higher odds for non-coffee and decaffeinated coffee drinkers and those drinking >6 cups/day, compared to light coffee drinkers. After full covariate adjustment, consumption of >6 cups/day was associated with 53% higher odds of dementia compared to consumption of 1–2 cups/day (fully adjusted OR 1.53, 95% CI 1.28, 1.83), with less evidence for an association with stroke (OR 1.17, 95% CI 1.00, 1.37, p= 0.055).


High coffee consumption was associated with smaller total brain volumes and increased odds of dementia.

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  1. What is strength of a standard cup? Is it a teaspoon of instant in a cup of water,the strength of an espresso or amount of caffeine (please specify)

  2. I can’t find in the report where it distinguishes if the coffee was sweetened or unsweetened, or if that factor was accounted for. When sugar has been shown in the past to be a factor in dementia, how could they have possibly not taken that into account? Is it dangerous to drink six cups of coffee a day with no sugar? Or is it dangerous to drink six cups of coffee a day with two teaspoons of sugar in each cup, for a total of 12 teaspoons of sugar that becomes dangerous? I find this study lacking in further information. Please provide clarification as to sugar content of the coffee consumed.

  3. Science does not depend much on faulty statistical correlation. It should explain how.

    1. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit skeptical of this study. Nightshift work is also correlated with increased rates of dementia, and nightshift workers tend to drink more caffeine. So is caffeine consumption merely a symptom of other issues, or is it a cause in itself? Definitely needs extensive research, but my hunch is that disturbed circadian rhythms have more to do with dementia than caffeine consumption.

  4. Based on other studies…I believe this is only true if the person is SLOW in caffeine metabolism. Fast caffeine metabolisms show no increase in stroke or dementia and may actually benefit from caffeine
    Best WISHES

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