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Scientists believe a compound present in coffee grounds could be used to prevent neurodegenerative disorders. Matthew Spaulding/Stocksy
  • A new study shows caffeic-acid-based Carbon Quantum Dots (CACQDs), made from coffee grounds, may be able to protect the brain from neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
  • The research suggests that caffeic acid’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may help combat the effects of lifestyle and environmental factors that increase the risk of such disorders.
  • Adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as following a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, etc., can help minimize the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders.

Neurological disorders, which include neurodegenerative disorders, impact approximately 15% of the global population, and are the primary cause of physical and cognitive health issues worldwide.

Researchers found that caffeic-acid-based Carbon Quantum Dots (CACQDs), produced from coffee grounds, may have the ability to protect the brain from the negative effects of certain neurodegenerative disorders.

According to a new study, CACQDs were shown to be effective when the neurodegenerative disorder was caused by lifestyle and environmental factors, including age, obesity, and pesticide exposure.

The findings were published in the journal Environmental Research.

“Carbon Quantum Dots (CQDs) are ‘bite-sized’ nanoparticles (2-10 nm by some standards, up to 20 nms by others and simply called carbon nanomaterials if they are under 100 nm) that are synthesized from carbon-containing precursors such as fruit peel, waste paper, and even salmon,” Dr. Mahesh Narayan, senior author of the study, and biophysicist at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Texas at El Paso told Medical News Today.

“They are not found as is but need to be synthesized. We used a chemically friendly (green Chemistry) approach which mimicked cooking in hot water, allowing the caffeic acid to be recarbonized into Caffeic Acid Derived Carbon Quantum Dots (CACQDs). As aforementioned, they can be prepared using other organic waste matter as well,” he explained.

When it comes to neurodegeneration, there are a variety of factors to take into consideration.

“Proteins misfold, and separately, free radicals are generated. Both events cause neuronal damage, injury, and demise,” said Dr. Narayan. “CQDs (CACQDs here) prevent both the misfolding of proteins and scavenge free radicals and thereby show independent mechanisms of intervention and neuronal protection.”

“[Carbon Quantum Dots] are likely to be effective in many sporadic (idiopathic) forms of neurodegeneration such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Lewy Body with Dementia, Dementia with Lewy Bodies but unlikely in genetic or familial disorders such as the small percent of people with familial Parkinson and Alzheimer’s or those with Huntington’s (caused by mutations in Huntigton’s protein).”
— Dr. Mahesh Narayan

Since caffeic acid has the ability to fight free radicals, which can lead to oxidative stress, and the brain is susceptible to oxidative stress, it can be a useful tool for managing neurodegenerative conditions.

“Caffeic acid has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Oxidative stress and inflammation contribute to cell death in any organ,” said Dr. Natalia Pessoa Rocha, assistant professor in the Department of Neurology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, who was not involved in the study.

“However, brain cells are more vulnerable to oxidative stress and inflammation than cells from other organs (due to the brain’s high oxygen consumption and lipid-rich content). Brain cells have a very limited capacity to regenerate, and any strategies able to prevent neuronal death are especially relevant for the brain,” she explained.

While these findings show promise, it’s important to be careful when interpreting the findings of this study.

“Most notably, it was only tested in vitro, an essential but incipient research step. They used SH-SY5Y cells, which are neuroblastoma cells,” Dr. Pessoa Rocha said. “These are widely used as in vitro models of neurodegenerative diseases, but we cannot assume that the effects on the brain will be the same. In addition, neurodegenerative diseases (NDs) are complex and multifactorial.”

“They demonstrated (again, in vitro) the effects of CACQDs on partially inhibiting amyloid-forming proteins and scavenging free radicals (i.e., antioxidant properties). Actually, the study is much more focused on chemical properties (synthesis and characterization of caffeic acid quantum dots) than clinical (or even preclinical) use. I believe that they wanted to justify using the synthesized CACQDs by showing that they could potentially be used to treat [neurodegenerative diseases],” Dr. Pessoa Rocha continued.

“[The researchers] tested the preventive potential (not treatment) because they tested the effects on cell death when cells were pretreated with CACQDs (they first exposed the cells to CACQDs; only after that they induced cells to degenerate), Dr. Pessoa Rocha further explained.

“Previous studies have already demonstrated the neuroprotective properties of coffee and its components. Many epidemiological studies have reported that coffee consumption reduces the risk of dementia, stroke, and Alzheimer’s disease and has a positive impact on Parkinson’s disease progression. The current study demonstrates potential mechanisms explaining the epidemiological findings.”
— Dr. Natalia Pessoa Rocha

However, “We are very far from saying that CACQDs can be used to treat NDs,” Dr. Pessoa Rocha stressed.

“Clinical symptoms (and therefore the clinical diagnosis) of neurogenerative disorders start years or even decades after the pathophysiological processes have been initiated,” Dr. Pessoa Rocha said.

“Because of the very limited capacity (or no capacity) of neurons to regenerate, disease-modifying treatments must focus on preventing neuronal dysfunction/neuronal death. And this is the major challenge in [neurogenerative disorder] research: how to select patients for clinical trials with a diagnosis but not too late to achieve disease modification?” she asked.

To help prevent the development of neurodegenerative disorders, experts recommend engaging in healthy habits.

“Eat a healthy diet with lots of organic vegetables and fruits (no pesticides, and avoid industrialized foods!), maintain cardiovascular health, good sleep, ‘work’ your brain (engage in cognitive tasks, socialize, enjoy life!) And drink coffee, why not?” said Dr. Pessoa Rocha.