Millennials are drinking more coffee more often, according to a new report.
A cup of coffee served at a coffee shop in Caracas, Venezuela on Feb. 26, 2015. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

Caffeine is one of 24 compounds researchers identified that can boost the brain's ability to protect itself against dementia, Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases, according to a new study published Tuesday.

Scientists at Indiana University screened more than a 1,200 compounds in an effort to identify those that could boost the brain's production of an enzyme, named NMNAT2, that was discovered last year at Indiana University. That enzyme has been shown to protect neurons from stress and fight the buildup of misfolded proteins in the brain, a common trait identified with neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.

Thankfully for coffee drinkers, researchers found that one of the compounds that could boost NMNAT2 production in the brain is caffeine.

"This work could help advance efforts to develop drugs that increase levels of this enzyme in the brain, creating a chemical 'blockade' against the debilitating effects of neurodegenerative disorders," Hui-Chen Lu, a Indiana University professor who led the study, said in a press release. The journal Scientific Reports published the study Tuesday.

After identifying caffeine's potential to boost NMNAT2, the research team gave caffeine to mice who were genetically modified to produce lower levels of the enzyme. Soon after, the mice began producing the enzyme at the same rate as regular mice.

Previous studies identified a link between coffee consumption and dementia. In 2012, scientists studied caffeine consumption in people with mild cognitive impairment, a condition in which patients display early signs of dementia. Patients who drank the equivalent of three cups of coffee a day were less likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer's than those who didn't.

"The results from this study, along with our earlier studies in Alzheimer's mice, are very consistent in indicating that moderate daily caffeine/coffee intake throughout adulthood should appreciably protect against Alzheimer's disease later in life," Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida, and one of the 2012 study's authors, said in a written statement at the time.

Worldwide, 47.5 million people have dementia, with Alzheimer's disease being the most common cause, according to the World Health Organization. Alzheimer's contributes to between 60 to 70 percent of dementia cases.

The study published Tuesday represents a step forward in explaining how caffeine — and coffee — help prevent dementia and could lead to the development of new treatments that don't come with milk and sugar.