A cup of joe a day may keep Alzheimer's away

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture
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Coffee drinkers may finally feel good about their little habit. For years they have been given contradictory advice about the consequences of drinking coffee, some of it good, some of it bad. Now researchers at the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in Tampa have presented results which might vindicate coffee once and for all.

The study, performed on mice whose DNA had been altered to contain a familial gene for Alzheimer’s, demonstrates that four to five cups of caffeinated coffee every few days led to much improved memories.

Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the buildup of a protein plaque called beta amyloid in brain tissue. The sticky beta amyloid accumulates between brain neurons and interferes with communication between axons. Eventually, it appears to cause neuron degeneration and cell death. No one knows beta amyloid’s exact mechanism of action; however, its presence is always indicative of the disease.

Gary Arendash, a scientist at the center and one of the study researchers, showed that caffeine could at least partially block the production of beta amyloid in earlier studies. He and his colleagues also found that a substance called granulocyte-colony stimulating factor, or GCSF, sparked the production of new axons, the communication cables that link nerve cells together, as well as new nerve cells themselves. GCSF also recruits stem cells from bone marrow to enter the brain and remove the harmful beta amyloid protein that initiates the disease.

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Researchers believe that moderate daily coffee intake starting at least by middle age is optimal for providing protection against Alzheimer’s disease, although starting even in older age appears protective from their studies. And it is only the caffeinated coffee which does the trick – decaf does not provide the protection afforded by the real stuff.

Caffeinated coffee is the best source of caffeine to counteract the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s because its yet unidentified component synergizes with caffeine to increase blood GCSF levels. Other sources of caffeine, such as can be found in tea, soft drinks and chocolate do not offer the benefits observed from coffee.

Coffee has also been shown to be beneficial in the prevention and management of other diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, Type II diabetes and stroke. Coffee is rich in anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, which may be partial factors in its health-boosting effects.

Alzheimer’s disease is an incurable degenerative disease whose onset is very gradual, spanning perhaps a decade or more. Researchers therefore urge individuals to take protective, potentially preventative steps against the disease as early as possible. Moderate daily consumption of caffeinated coffee may be the best current option for long-term protection against Alzheimer’s memory loss. No other Alzheimer’s therapy being developed comes close to beating out coffee for being inexpensive and readily available. In addition, it easily gets into the brain, appears to directly attack the disease process, and has few side-effects for most of us.

Dr. Arendash has not limited his study to mice. He says he has data on human subjects, too, which appears to corroborate the mice studies. The data is currently being analyzed, but will also be published soon.

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