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New study reveals used coffee grounds can help prevent neurodegenerative diseases

Ollie Poole | November 30, 2023

A team led by Jyotish Kumar (right), a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UTEP, and overseen by Mahesh Narayan, Ph.D. (second from left), a professor and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in the same department, found that caffeic-acid based Carbon Quantum Dots (CQDs), which can be derived from spent coffee grounds, have the potential to protect brain cells from the damage caused by several neurodegenerative diseases. The team includes Afroz Karim (left), a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry; and Ummy Habiba Sweety (second from right), a doctoral student in the Environmental Science and Engineering program. Credit: The University of Texas at El Paso.

Thinking of throwing away your used coffee grounds? Think again. A recent scientific study from The University of Texas El Paso reveals that old coffee grounds can potentially prevent the appearance of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.

There are many uses for old coffee grounds – from fertilizer to face scrubs. And this recent finding puts an even brighter spotlight on their incredible properties. Put simply: recycling our coffee grounds should always be on our minds.

Science made simple: All about caffeic acid in coffee grounds

Jyotish KumarA team led by Jyotish Kumar, a doctoral student in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UTEP, found that caffeic-acid based Carbon Quantum Dots (CACQDs), which can be derived from spent coffee grounds, have the potential to protect brain cells from the damage caused by several neurodegenerative diseases. Credit: The University of Texas at El Paso.

The research team is led by Jyotish Kumar (pictured above), and Mahesh Narayan (Ph.D., a professor and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in the in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UTEP). And they start with the caffeic acid in coffee grounds.

Caffeic acid – an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory found in coffee grounds – transforms into CQDs (Carbon Quantum Dots) when baked. When this happens, these dots can become ‘free radical scavengers’ – meaning they eat up the free radicals that are known to cause neurodegenerative diseases.

“Caffeic-acid based Carbon Quantum Dots (CQDs), which can be derived from spent coffee grounds, have the potential to protect brain cells from the damage caused by several neurodegenerative diseases” (UTEP Research Team).

So how does this work? While most antioxidants cannot pass from the blood into the brain; carbon quantum dots’ ‘presence in the Cerebro Spinal Fluid (CSF) suggests it can cross the blood-brain barrier’ – therefore ‘impeding the clump of proteins’ associated with causing neurodegeneration (defined by a loss of brain cells).

What’s next for this research?

Mahesh NarayanMahesh Narayan, Ph.D., a professor and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry in the in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UTEP, found that caffeic-acid based Carbon Quantum Dots (CACQDs), which can be derived from spent coffee grounds, have the potential to protect brain cells from the damage caused by several neurodegenerative diseases. Credit: The University of Texas at El Paso.

While this is a remarkable discovery, we must appreciate this research is at an early stage. As Dr Mahesh Narayan tells us:

“To get the caffeic acid derived CQD’s into the system, the caffeic acid present in coffee would need to be extracted and recarbonized (by hydrothermal synthesis). For now, though we have not tested the CQDs in animal models of toxicity (let alone humans) and thus they should not be consumed.”

Nevertheless, their work represents a potential step towards preventing neurodegenerative diseases (which are very difficult to cure during their later stages). And we eagerly await more testings and results. For now: what does this mean for our morning coffee?

Think before you throw: always recycle used coffee grounds

Old coffee grounds should be cherished. Not mindlessly discarded. Following the shocking findings that most of the 250,000 tonnes of coffee grounds produced each year get chucked into landfill – we need to rethink what comes after our empty cups.

This means all coffee lovers, baristas and business owners looking to champion a sustainable workplace most consider how to recycle their grounds. We recommend sending your used grounds to Envar Composting (a company which repurposes grounds into planet-friendly products), or donating to your local university’s science department.
Discover More: FreshGround’s commitment to sustainability

Time for a coffee?

Thinking of another cup? Then know that every sip of an addictive americano and lush latte can contribute towards some good. We recommend recycling your old coffee grounds to they can be repurposed for people and planet.

That means if you’re slurping a cappuccino while reading this – you might want to make another one.

Need some help? Contact us on hello@freshground.co.uk or 020 7553 7900 to get barista-quality coffee for your workplace.