Summer Undergraduate Researcher Briana Nosal ’22 (CAHNR)

Nosal's research could unlock additional health benefits of coffee

(Contributed Photo)

Coffee: some of us can’t imagine living without it, and now a UConn undergraduate researcher is working to determine whether it might help us live healthier lives.

Nutritional science major Briana Nosal ‘22 (CAHNR) is working on a SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fund) grant investigating how different methods of preparing coffee impact antioxidant content.

Nosal is working in the lab of Ock Chun, professor of nutritional sciences. The project is comparing six different coffee brands using a French press versus a capsule coffee machine.

“I love coffee and I know a lot of people do, so it would be cool to see how it can have a positive impact on your health,” Nosal says.

Nosal is measuring contents of total phenolic compounds in the brewed coffee extracts themselves as well as in urine samples taken during a previous human study with the same coffees. Compounds that contain polyphenols are known as antioxidants. Compounds that contain phenols are known as antioxidants. Antioxidants are an important part of preventing or delaying cell damage, and can help lower one’s risk for various diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

The study will allow the researchers to determine the impact of coffee preparation on total phenolic contents in brewed coffee extracts and their contribution to body’s antioxidant status assessed by the total polyphenol contents and total antioxidant capacity (TAC) in the urine samples.

So far, Nosal has found that coffees brewed with a single-serving capsule coffee machine have higher total phenolics and TAC. One hypothesis explaining this difference is that the capsule coffee machine extracts the coffee at higher pressure and temperature while brewing than the French press, which could higher the total amount of polyphenols and TAC in the brewed cup.

Nosal hopes this project can help shine a more positive light on coffee, as much existing research has focused on disadvantages of coffee on personal health.

Nosal herself has been interested in personal health and nutrition long before launching her coffee study. She first began paying attention to proper nutrition when a soccer coach emphasized its importance to support athletic performance.

“I guess that sparked my interest and I stuck with it,” Nosal says.

After UConn, Nosal hopes to go to medical school. She says she sees research remaining an important part of her career.

“This is getting my foot in the door with research, and I really see my future having some kind of research in it,” Nosal says. “It’s so cool to see how you can manipulate something and see the actual results in front of you.”

This experience has differed from Nosal’s experience in labs for her classes. Rather than performing an experiment and knowing there is an expected result, her findings in Chun’s lab are novel and surprising.

“I don’t know what to expect. I have to dig a little deeper to understand the data.”

UConn’s Office of Undergraduate Research each year provides Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) awards to support full-time undergraduate students in summer research or creative projects. SURF awards are available to students in all majors at all UConn campuses. A faculty committee representing various schools and colleges reviews the students’ project proposals, and SURF award recipients are chosen through a competitive process. Each SURF award winner is supervised by a UConn faculty member.

Nosal’s project  was also supported by the UConn McNair Scholars Program, which prepares talented, highly motivated UConn undergraduate students for doctoral studies in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines.

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