Caffeine may protect against Alzheimer’s disease

Caffeine may protect against Alzheimer’s disease

By Liz Lockhart

Although we are led to believe that caffeine can have negative impact on our health and, in particular, our mental health, a new report suggests that adults should be encouraged to drink beverages which contain caffeine, especially coffee.

A new study was conducted by researchers from the University of South Florida’s College of Pharmacy.  The researchers monitored the memory and cognitive behaviour of 124 participants aged between 65 and 88.  They found that over the following period of two-to-four years the participants with higher blood/caffeine levels avoided the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.  It was also found that coffee was the major or only source of caffeine for these participants.

The researchers believe that this is the study to provide direct evidence that caffeine/coffee intake is associated with a reduced risk of dementia or a delayed onset.

The study lead author, Chuanhai Cao, Ph.D., said ‘These intriguing results suggest that older adults with mild memory impairment who drink moderate levels of coffee, about 3 cups a day, will not convert to Alzheimer’s disease, or at least will experience a substantial delay before converting to Alzheimer’s. 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.’

The researchers suggest that the study demonstrates that this protection probably occurs even in older people with the early signs of Alzheimer’s.  This stage is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and is often a transitional stage between normal aging and dementia.  The study focused on participants with MCI because of their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Blood/caffeine levels were assessed at the start of the study and found to be lower in participants who had MCI and who then developed dementia during the following two to four years.  The researchers also found that no one with MCI who later developed Alzheimer’s disease had initial blood caffeine levels above a critical level of 1200ng/ml.  This is the equivalent to drinking several cups of coffee just a few hours before the blood sample was taken.  It was also found that many of the participants with stable MCI had blood/caffeine levels higher than this level.

Study co-author, Gary Arendash, Ph.D. said ‘We found that 100% of the MCI patients with plasma caffeine levels above the critical level experienced no conversion to Alzheimer’s disease during the 2 – 4 year follow-up period.’

Dr. Arendash suggests that ‘moderate daily consumption of caffeinated coffee appears to be best dietary option for long-term protection against Alzheimer’s memory loss.  Coffee is inexpensive, readily available, easily gets into the brain, and has few side-effects for most of us.  Moreover, our studies show that caffeine and coffee appear to directly attack the Alzheimer’s disease process.’

Further benefits can be found from moderate consumption of caffeine/coffee, according to the researchers.  It appears to reduce the risk of several other diseases of aging which include Parkinson’s disease, stroke, Type II diabetes, and breast cancer.

The researchers further suggest that more controlled clinical trials are necessary to fully demonstrate the therapeutic value of caffeine for these conditions but the evidence towards this is mounting.

The study findings are to be published online in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

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