How Coffee Works in the Brain to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease
Previous research into the health benefits of coffee has found a strong link between coffee intake and the prevention of dementia. Now, a team from the University of Illinois may have a clue why. Publishing in the Journal of Neuroscience, Gregory Freund reveals findings from his latest study.
In June of this year, Dr. Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida, published research that gave “direct evidence” that drinking coffee was linked to protection against mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and its progression to Alzheimer’s dementia. In a small study of 124 senior adults aged 65 to 88, blood caffeine levels were 51% lower in those participants who had MCI during the two-to-four year follow-up period.
Researchers in the past have believed that caffeine suppressed the rise of amyloid plaques in the brain, a hallmark characteristic of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Freund’s latest work suggests there also may be an anti-inflammatory effect at work as well.
Dr. Freund conducted an experiment on two groups of mice. To facilitate cognitive impairment, he interrupted the breathing and blood flow, causing hypoxia – or a lack of oxygen to the brain. After allotting a period of time for recovery, one group of animals was administered caffeine where the other group was not. The caffeine appeared to minimize the impact of the chain reaction that occurs during cognitive impairment.
During the hypoxia process, adenosine is released onto the brain cells causing cellular damage. Adenosine is a type of “fuel” that powers the brain, and once this is leaked, it activates other processes such as caspase-1 enzyme which sets off the production of beta cytokine IL-1 causing inflammation. Caffeine appeared to block the activity of the adenosine molecules.
Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia among older adults. There are more than 26 million people around the world estimated to be living with the disease, with an increase expected in the near future due to the aging of the population. With this and other research into the health benefits of coffee and caffeine, researchers hope new drugs to prevent or reverse cognitive impairment can be developed.
Gabriel S. Chiu, Gregory G. Freund et al. Hypoxia/Reoxygenation Impairs Memory Formation via Adenosine-Dependent Activation of Caspase 1. The Journal of Neuroscience, 3 October 2012, 32(40): 13945-13955;doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0704-12.2012