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Coffee May Prevent Retinal Damage

May 6, 2014

There have been many recent studies on the benefits of coffee – it may cut the risk of chronic diseases such as Parkinson`s, prostate cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer`s and age-related cognitive declines.

And now coffee drinkers have yet another reason to celebrate – aside from being the morning (or any other time) pick-me-up, coffee may be able to prevent the deterioration of eyesight and possible blindness from retinal degeneration due to glaucoma, aging and diabetes.

We all know the main ingredient in coffee is caffeine – the stimulant that gives us that boost. But according to a Cornell study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, led by senior author and professor of food and science, Chang Y. Lee, green coffee beans (raw coffee) only contain 1% caffeine. However, it also contains 7-9% chlorogenic acid (CGA), a strong antioxidant that prevents retinal degeneration in mice.

CGA has been associated with many health benefits, such as weight loss and reduction of blood pressure. Past studies have also shown that CGA may be a powerful neuroprotectant, and there has been great interest in identifying neuroprotective compounds that block hypoxia – deprivation of oxygen in areas of the body.

The investigators were interested to see whether coffee, particularly CGA, could prevent hypoxia and overall degeneration of the retina in mice.

The retina is a thin tissue layer on the inside, back wall of the eye with millions of light-sensitive cells and other nerve cells that receive and organize visual information.

"The retina is one of the most metabolically active tissues in the body, consuming oxygen more rapidly than any other tissues, including the brain," the researchers explain.

"Therefore it is susceptible to a variety of diseases caused by oxidative stress, including age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma – all of which can lead to partial or complete blindness."

For their study, the team first tested the effects of CGA on retinal ganglion cells (RGC) – the neurons located near the inner surface of the retina – that were exposed to hypoxia. Cell damage was reduced with nitric oxide treatment alone, but was reduced further if cells were pre-treated with CGA.

The team then tested the effects of coffee extract and CGA on mice.

Commenting on the findings, the researchers say:

"This study shows that CGA and coffee extract are responsible for reduction of the RGC apoptosis induced by hypoxia and nitric oxide. Therefore, coffee consumption may provide additional health benefits by preventing retinal degeneration."

The study is "important in understanding functional foods, that is, natural foods that provide beneficial health effects," said Lee. "Coffee is the most popular drink in the world, and we are understanding what benefit we can get from that."

So go ahead and treat yourself to the pleasures of a freshly pulled espresso!