May 6, 2011 -- Caffeine's jolt may do more than just keep you awake. A new study supports the health benefits of coffee by showing how caffeine's antioxidant activity fights damage-causing free radicals.
Researchers say their experiments explain the chemistry of how the antioxidant seeks out and destroys free radicals associated with Alzheimer's and heart disease.
Free radicals are molecules in the body that attack healthy cells and cause damage that can lead to disease. The health benefits of antioxidants are largely due to their effects in protecting against damage from these free radicals.
Recent studies have shown that coffee is one of the richest sources of antioxidants in the average person's diet. But little is known about how these antioxidants, including caffeine, work against free radicals.
In the study, published in The Journal of Physical Chemistry B, researcher Jorge Rafael Leon-Carmona of Universidad Autnoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa, in Mexico, evaluated the five different theoretical mechanisms of the chemical reaction between the antioxidants in caffeine and free radicals.
They found that a mechanism called the radical adduct formation (RAF) is the main mechanism involved in caffeine's ability to protect against damage from free radicals, which is consistent with previous studies in animals.
Researchers say the results support the notion that caffeine is a major source of antioxidant activity in coffee.