Study participants who had consumed coffee (1/2-1 cup) on average 1 hour and 18 minutes before performing a simulated computer office-work task found to provoke pain in the neck, shoulders, forearms and wrists, were found to have "attenuated pain development compared with the subjects who had abstained from coffee intake."
While the researchers attributed the observed effect to the caffeine content in coffee, we believe there is more going on here...
In a previous post on coffee as both drug and medicine, we looked at the opiate-like properties of an oil-soluble component within both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee called cafestrol which likely acts as a pain-killer. Because the average cup of coffee contains five times the amount required to produce an opioid effect (as measured by ED50),[ii] it would appear that the pain-killing effect in coffee is not just about the caffeine.
We don't, of course, delude ourselves into believing that caffeine isn't an important part of the equation. Caffeine has potent analgesic properties, but may not work as well when separated from the complex (and delightful!) chemistries contained within the fermented and roasted coffee bean.
Indeed, another recent coffee study, involving a total of 50,739 women (mean age, 63 years), found that caffeinated, but not decaffeinated coffee, significantly reduced depression risk.[iii] So, take out the caffeine, and the characteristic mood-lifting, anti-depressive properties of this beverage may fade into the background, or disappear.
Coffee also has unique nerve-supporting properties. It contains a compound called trigonelline which promotes neurite outgrowth in neurons.[iv] A neurite is any projection from the cell body of a neuron, such as axons and dendrites. Trignonelline's extension of these projections may compensate or rescue damaged neuronal networks, and explain why coffee has a truly therapeutic effect on brain health, and cognition-dependent tasks, e.g. computer work.
Coffee also has powerful antioxidant properties and genoprotective properties. This is important, as stress and environmental stressors, e.g. chemicals, may cause increased oxidative stress and even DNA damage, and this will translate into improved neurological health.
For additional research on coffee's health benefits, view our Coffee Research page which contains study abstracts on over 50 health conditions that may benefit from the responsible consumption of this herb.
[i] Vegard Strøm, Cecilie Røe, Stein Knardahl. Coffee intake and development of pain during computer work. BMC Res Notes. 2012 Sep 3 ;5(1):480. Epub 2012 Sep 3. PMID: 22943590
[ii] J H Boublik, M J Quinn, J A Clements, A C Herington, K N Wynne, J W Funder . Coffee contains potent opiate receptor binding activity. Nature. 1983 Jan 20;301(5897):246-8. PMID: 6296693
[iii] Michel Lucas, Fariba Mirzaei, An Pan, Olivia I Okereke, Walter C Willett, Éilis J O'Reilly, Karestan Koenen, Alberto Ascherio. Coffee, caffeine, and risk of depression among women. Arch Intern Med. 2011 Sep 26 ;171(17):1571-8. PMID: 21949167
[iv] C Tohda, N Nakamura, K Komatsu, M Hattori . Trigonelline-induced neurite outgrowth in human neuroblastoma SK-N-SH cells. Biol Pharm Bull. 1999 Jul;22(7):679-82. PMID: 10443461