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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.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Food and Drink, Memory

12 Comments & Updates 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:


    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!


  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:


    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!


  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.

  8. JP Says:

    Update: Ashwaghanda, a traditional Ayurvedic herbal remedy, may offer new hope in the near future …


    “While plants cannot be patented, compounds from them can. MSU holds the patent for withanamides, and earlier research revealed that the compound, found in the plants’ seeds, proved to be a powerful anti-oxidant – double the strength of what’s on today’s market. The potent compound has shown that it can protect cells against damaging attacks by a rogue protein ­– the earliest stage of Alzheimer’s.

    Alzheimer’s begins when a specific protein starts breaking, or cleaving, at the wrong place to produce an unwanted fragment. This bad fragment, called BAP, stresses cells’ membranes, sparks plaque formation and eventually kills the cells. This attack begins in the frontal lobe, erasing memories and continuing its unrelenting assault deeper into the brain.

    A complicating factor is that the majority of protein cleaving is a natural, healthy process. Pharmaceutical companies, however, have focused their efforts on blocking the tiny faction of bad cleaving of the protein producing BAP.

    ‘Rather than trying to stop only the malevolent cleaving, our compound keeps the bad protein from entering the cell where it does its damage,’ said Nair, who’s in the horticulture department. ‘Our studies have shown that withanamides effectively protect the brain cells by neutralizing the effect of BAP.'”

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Update 05/23/15:


    Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2015 May 21.

    Associations of coffee drinking with systemic immune and inflammatory markers.

    BACKGROUND: Coffee drinking has been inversely associated with mortality as well as cancers of the endometrium, colon, skin, prostate, and liver. Improved insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation are among the hypothesized mechanisms by which coffee drinking may affect cancer risk; however, associations between coffee drinking and systemic levels of immune and inflammatory markers have not been well characterized.

    METHODS: We used Luminex bead-based assays to measure serum levels of 77 immune and inflammatory markers in 1,728 older non-Hispanic Whites. Usual coffee intake was self-reported using a food frequency questionnaire. We used weighted multivariable logistic regression models to examine associations between coffee and dichotomized marker levels. We conducted statistical trend tests by modeling the median value of each coffee category and applied a 20% false discovery rate criterion to P-values.

    RESULTS: Ten of the 77 markers were nominally associated (P-value for trend<0.05) with coffee drinking. Five markers withstood correction for multiple comparisons and included aspects of the host response namely chemotaxis of monocytes/macrophages (IFNγ, CX3CL1/fractalkine, CCL4/MIP-1β), pro-inflammatory cytokines (sTNFRII) and regulators of cell growth (FGF-2). Heavy coffee drinkers had lower circulating levels of IFNγ (OR=0.35; 95% CI 0.16-0.75), CX3CL1/fractalkine (OR=0.25; 95% CI 0.10-0.64), CCL4/MIP-1β (OR=0.48; 95% CI 0.24-0.99), FGF-2 (OR=0.62; 95% CI 0.28-1.38), and sTNFRII (OR=0.34; 95% CI 0.15-0.79) than non-coffee drinkers.

    CONCLUSIONS: Lower circulating levels of inflammatory markers among coffee drinkers may partially mediate previously observed associations of coffee with cancer and other chronic diseases.

    IMPACT: Validation studies, ideally controlled feeding trials, are needed to confirm these associations.

    Be well!


  10. JP Says:

    Update 05/26/15:


    Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 Mar 13.

    A double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluating the effects of caffeine and L-theanine both alone and in combination on cerebral blood flow, cognition and mood.

    RATIONALE: Evidence suggests interactive effects of the tea components caffeine and L-theanine on behaviour, yet no data exists exploring the impact of the two on cerebral blood flow (CBF).

    OBJECTIVES: The current placebo-controlled, double-blind, counterbalanced, crossover study examined the effects of caffeine and L-theanine on CBF and extended previous cognitive and mood findings by using lower doses than previous studies of a similar methodology, which more closely reflect the ratios present in tea.

    METHODS: Twelve habitual consumers and 12 non-habitual consumers of caffeine each received 75 mg caffeine, 50 mg L-theanine, 75 mg caffeine plus 50 mg L-theanine, and placebo in a counterbalanced order across four separate visits. CBF was measured via near-infrared spectroscopy with cognition and mood assessed at baseline and 30 min post-dose. Salivary caffeine and peripheral haemodynamics were co-monitored.

    RESULTS: Caffeine reduced oxygenated haemoglobin (oxy-Hb), increased deoxygenated haemoglobin (deoxy-Hb), improved performance on attention tasks and increased overall mood ratings. Increases in deoxy-Hb following caffeine were more pronounced in non-consumers. Some evidence for increased deoxy-Hb remained when caffeine was combined with L-theanine, but this effect was attenuated and the effects of caffeine on oxy-Hb, cognition and mood were eradicated.

    CONCLUSIONS: Combining L-theanine with caffeine, at levels and ratios equivalent to one to two cups of tea, eliminated the vasoconstrictive effect and behavioural effects of caffeine. This supports previous findings of an interaction between these substances, despite a lack of effects of L-theanine in isolation. However, at the levels tested here, this did not lead to a positive impact on behaviour.

    Be well!


  11. JP Says:

    Updated 12/17/15:


    Nutr Hosp. 2015 Dec 1;32(n06):2822-2827.


    BACKGROUND: Alzheimer’s dementia is the most prevalent nowadays. As for treatment, there is no definitive cure drug, thus new therapies are needed. In this regard the medium chain triglycerides are a direct source of cellular energy and can be a nonpharmacological alternative to the neuronal death for lack of it, that occurs in Alzheimer patients.

    OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the impact of coconut oil in the development of Alzheimer’s dementia, in any degree of dementia. Also determine whether this improvement influences within variables such as sex and suffering or not Type II Diabetes Mellitus.

    MATERIAL AND METHODS: A prospective study was conducted in patients with Alzheimer’s dementia, with a control and an intervention group which was administered 40 ml/day of extra virgin coconut oil. The parameters evaluated were the mini test scores Lobo cognitive test, pre and post intervention in both groups.

    RESULTS: It was observed in subjects taking the product, a statistically significant increase in test score MECWOLF and therefore an improvement in cognitive status, improving especially women’s, those without diabetes mellitus type II, and severe patients.

    CONCLUSION: This study, although preliminary, demonstrated the positive influence of coconut oil at the cognitive level of patients with Alzheimer’s, this improvement being dependent on sex, presence or absence of diabetes and degree of dementia.

    Be well!


  12. JP Says:

    Updated 06/13/16:


    Clin Nutr. 2016 May 30.

    Coffee intake and the incident risk of cognitive disorders: A dose-response meta-analysis of nine prospective cohort studies.

    BACKGROUND & AIMS: Previous epidemiological studies have provided inconsistent conclusions on the impact of coffee consumption in the developing of cognitive disorders. However, no previous meta-analysis has pooled the evidence from the prospective cohort studies to assess the influence of coffee drinking and its potential dose-response patterns on the risk of developing cognitive disorders specifically.

    METHODS: Two databases (PubMed and Embase) were searched for evidence of cohort studies from inception to February 2016. We used a generic inverse-variance method with a random-effects model to pool the fully adjusted relative risks (RRs) and the corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CIs). In the dose-response analyses, a generalized least-squares trend estimation model was applied to computing the study-specific slopes.

    RESULTS: Nine prospective cohort studies involving 34,282 participants were included in our study. The duration of follow-up years ranged from 1.3 to 28. Compared with <1 cup, daily drinking of 1-2 cups of coffee was inversely linked with the occurrence of cognitive disorders (i.e., Alzheimer's disease, dementia, cognitive decline, and cognitive impairment), and the pooled RR (95% CI) was 0.82 (0.71, 0.94) with evidence of non-significant heterogeneity (I2 = 25%). Non-significant differences were presented for the association between coffee consumption (>3 vs. <1 cup/d) and incident cognitive disorders. The dose-response analysis showed a "J-shaped" curve relationship of the risk of developing cognitive disorders with coffee consumption.

    CONCLUSIONS: A "J-shaped" association was presented between coffee intake and incident cognitive disorders, with the lowest risk of incident cognitive disorders at a daily consumption level of 1-2 cups of coffee.

    Be well!


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