Study finds coffee delays onset of Alzheimer’s
Published: Monday, June 11, 2012
Updated: Monday, June 11, 2012 06:06
Coffee can give a boost when students pull themselves out of bed in the morning, but a new study reports it can also safeguard the brain against the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
A recent study led by USF researchers Chuanhai Cao and Gary Arendash found that caffeine is linked to slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The results suggest that adults who drink approximately three to four cups of coffee daily are significantly less likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared to non- or milder coffee consumers.
Though many people may view coffee in a negative light because of misconceptions about stunted growth, stained teeth or crashing effects, Cao and Arendash said the only people who should be wary of caffeine are children and pregnant women, who shouldn’t consume over 300 mg of caffeine daily.
“If I were a young college student, I would take in at least two, three or four cups of coffee a day,” Arendash said. “It’s affordable, it’s good for studying and it can ultimately help protect Alzheimer’s.”
The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease last month, tracked 124 adults between the ages of 65 and 88 with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a disorder which commonly progresses to Alzheimer’s. The subjects were followed for two to four years and had the levels of caffeine concentration in their bloodstream periodically measured. The critical blood caffeine level for protecting against the illness was 1200 mg/ml.
“You would probably need a minimum of three cups daily to reach that amount (of blood caffeine),” Cao said.
Subjects with caffeine blood level of 1200 mg/ml or higher during the follow-up sample showed impressive results. Arendash said 100 percent of those tested above that level never developed Alzheimer’s.
The outcome suggests that older adults already diagnosed with MCI, can delay or prevent the disease with coffee consumption.
Each year, about 15 percent of those diagnosed with MCI develop full-blown Alzheimer’s. Ten percent of adults over the age of 65 have MCI.
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, about 1 in 10 people who are 65 or older have Alzheimer’s, and nearly half of people over 85 are afflicted with the disease.
Cao and Arendash’s study stemmed from an earlier study they published in 2009 that examined the effects of caffeine on mice that were bred to develop Alzheimer’s symptoms. The mice experienced a reversal of memory impairment by consuming the human equivalent of five cups of coffee daily.
But the average amount of coffee consumed by people in the U.S. is one to two cups daily, Arendash said.
Although there are alternative ways of consuming caffeine, the researchers insist that coffee is the best way to go. Caffeine is still proven to be beneficial, but the interaction of caffeine with unknown substances in coffee prove to be the best in preventing memory impairment. The caffeine interacts with other unknown compounds in the coffee to produce effects that lower prevalence of the protein amyloid-beta, which is one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s.
“I believe that this information is going to encourage people to continue a coffee-drinking habit,” said Cao.
Arendash said he was the first of the two researchers to become interested in Alzheimer’s studies. He decided to pursue research linking caffeine and dementia when he attended a neuroscience conference in Europe about six years ago. After learning of the interesting findings, he recruited Cao to work by his side.
The researchers said that the current goal is to execute a control study and eventually do experiments in full blown Alzheimer’s patients to further prove the theory. If the study is successful, many doors could be opened to the idea of relationship between caffeine and Alzheimer’s and ultimately improve the quality of life for many patients.
“I want to do something useful with my life and help people,” Cao said. “How far we can get with this, I don’t know, but I want to get it as far as we can.”
But Cao and Arendash are having a difficult time finding the funds to continue the research, as different foundations, coffee companies and pharmaceutical companies turn them away.
“I’m not going to give up,” Arendash said. “This is far too important to give up on.”