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Alzheimer’s Coffee Link

July 17, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Perhaps you heard or read about the recent news concerning caffeine and its purported effect on the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. I know those headlines certainly caught my attention. I’m a frequent coffee drinker and regularly advocate the use of this roasted bean to promote wellness in most individuals. But rather than simply accept the current positive findings, I decided to dig a little deeper. I wanted to know: Does caffeine and, more specifically, coffee really afford any real world brain protection?

First, an examination of the source of all the excitement, which can be found in the July edition of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The study in question looked at 55 mice with experimentally induced Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Between the 18th and 19th month of life, approximately the equivalent of 70 years of age in humans, the mice began exhibiting memory problems. At that point, the researchers gave half of test animals caffeine in their water. The amount of caffeine administered was equal to about 500 mg, which is an amount typically found in 5 cups of regular coffee. Then various measures of the mice’s cognitive function were studied over the course of two months. Here’s what the researchers discovered:

  • The mice who were given only water (the placebo) continued to deteriorate in an expected fashion.
  • The addition of caffeine resulted in improved “memory and thinking skills” and presented overall cognitive activity that was comparable to younger rats without AD.
  • The brains of the caffeine consuming mice also demonstrated a minimum of 40% lower levels of beta amyloid, which is a protein that is responsible for plaque build up in the brains of AD patients.

The scientists believe that caffeine may inhibit beta amyloid accumulation by reducing inflammation in the brain and enzymatically interfering with its production in the first place. The authors concluded that these findings may suggest, “a treatment potential of caffeine in cases of established AD”. (1)

This may seem like a revelation. But the truth is that hints of promise have been sprouting up for years. For instance, a study in the November 2006 issue of the journal Neuroscience found virtually identical results and was probably the basis for the first study I just discussed. (2) Most of the available research involves the chronic administration of caffeine. But a 2008 experiment found that even acute caffeine consumption may help improve “recognition memory”. (3)

Other evidence presented in January of this year found that British women of all ages (17-92) showed an association between caffeine consumption and “fewer cognitive failures” and lower rates of depression. The average amount of caffeine used by the group of 3,223 women was 140 mg per day. (4)  An even larger population study in both men and women concluded that caffeine intake protected women against “cognitive decline” in their senior years. (5)

So what is it about caffeine/coffee that may be behind these brain boosting effects? My search of the medical literature turned up several possibilities beyond what was mentioned in the previous trials. Here’s a brief overview of some of the possible mechanisms behind this phenomenon.

  • Caffeine and other phytochemicals in coffee may protect precious brain cells from damage. There is even preliminary evidence that one of these substances (trigonelline) may regenerate neuronal components that play an integral part in memory. This protective effect may also be part of the reason why caffeine appears to protect against Parkinson’s disease. Some scientists hypothesize that specific antioxidants in coffee may be responsible for shielding the brain from damage associated with aging. (6,7,8,9)
Beta Amyloid Brain Plaque Before and After Caffeine Consumption
  • Diabetes and blood sugar imbalance is theorized to play a role in AD and other forms of dementia. Both decaffeinated and regular coffee contain naturally occurring chemicals such as chlorogenic acid, lignans and trigonelline that have been shown to improve glucose tolerance and, possibly, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Some scientists have gone so far as to postulate that AD could be considered “type 3 diabetes”. (10,11,12,13)
  • Preliminary evidence also suggests that the component of coffee called trigonelline may possess anticholineesterase activity. This is the type of mechanism that prescription therapies for AD and dementia often utilize. (14)

However, not all of the research is quite so rosy. I did find a negative outcome in a new study published in this month’s American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It’s very interesting because the study examined the dietary patterns of over 2,600 Finnish twins. Coffee consumption was generally high in this group, but those who drank the most coffee did not appear to derive protection against “mild cognitive impairment or dementia”. (15)

As you can see, most, but not all of the research on caffeine and coffee supports the current excitement that’s in the news. (16,17) In my opinion, there’s certainly a lot of promise to be found in this field of inquiry. I’m confident that further research will help clarify the role that caffeine and coffee may play in countering brain aging and dysfunction. (18) Until then, I’ll continue to drink my favorite daily brew. I know that anecdotally speaking, it helps my mental performance and is likely supporting my wellness from head to toe.

Be well!

JP

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7 Comments to “Alzheimer’s Coffee Link”

  1. David Says:

    The issue of caffeine is in fact controversial. I think it exerts possitive results with moderate consumption and, of course, in coffee, not in colas, which have with many antinutrients.

  2. David Says:

    which have many antinutrients*

  3. JP Says:

    David,

    I agree that the source is very important. When possible, I try to only use organic coffee. I also drink or eat mostly organic cocoa. No diet sodas here or other sources of phosphoric acid in my diet. :)

    Be well!

    JP

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Caffeine and other phytochemicals in coffee may protect precious brain cells from damage. LTM (long term memory) and STM (short therm memory) alcohol and caffeine.

  5. Geneva Says:

    First time commenting here …
    funny that my “security words” to post were “green tea”
    because that’s exactly what I was going to ask about!

    The caffeine studies are promising, but would tea have the same results? I’m 49 y/o and have never had a cup of coffee in my life. Love my green tea though. However, my fear of Alzheimer’s is enough to turn me into a coffee drinker if necessary.

    JP – great blog you have here. Not sure how I found you initially, but I’ve recently started following you on twitter, which is how I came across this report from last summer.

  6. JP Says:

    Thank you, Geneva. :)

    First and foremost, I’d like to say that I’m a big fan of green (and white) tea. On most days, I drink both organic coffee and organic white tea.

    It does appear that coffee has unique properties that differ from those of tea. The higher caffeine content is only one of the many differences. Their respective antioxidant/phytochemical compositions mostly likely contribute to any anti-dementia activity as well.

    The case for coffee’s protective effect seems to be growing stronger:

    http://iospress.metapress.com/content/a423p6m256u26742/fulltext.html

    There’s quite a lot of preliminary research that suggests that tea may be helpful as well. But the human data isn’t very extensive or very encouraging at this time.

    http://bit.ly/bwB6Wr (animal study)

    http://www.jnutbio.com/article/S0955-2863%2807%2900193-3/abstract (animal study)

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1471-4159.2009.06562.x/abstract (review)

    http://iospress.metapress.com/openurl.asp?genre=article&issn=1387-2877&volume=16&issue=1&spage=85 (human population study)

    Be well!

    JP

  7. EquiisSavant Says:

    I drink appx. 4 cups of coffee and two cups green tea every day. I have been drinking coffee this way since I was age 19, when I discovered it because it was the only way to warm up at a very cold horse show.

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