USF researchers: drink more coffee

Making multiple trips to the coffee pot may improve health, according to USF researchers who say an unknown compound in the beverage may protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

A study conducted on mice specially bred to develop Alzheimer’s symptoms found mice given regular coffee showed improvements in their Alzheimer’s-like condition when compared to mice given decaffeinated coffee or pure caffeine, said the study’s lead author Chuanhai Cao.

Cao, along with fellow neuroscientist and the study’s other lead researcher Gary Arendash, submitted their findings to the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, which published the article June 28.

Mice administered regular coffee instead of decaffeinated coffee or caffeine showed a decreased level of beta-amyloid protein in their brains, according to the study. Cao said beta-amyloid itself is not known to be harmful to humans, but people with Alzheimer’s tend to exhibit build-ups or “plugs” of the protein in the brain, which is thought to be a cause for Alzheimer’s disease.

Another benefit found in mice given coffee was an increased level of granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GCSF), a substance naturally produced in the body that Alzheimer’s patients tend to have a reduced amount of. Cao said high levels of GCSF lead to enhanced memory function due to its ability to send stem cells from bone marrow into the brain. This can increase the digestion of the beta-amyloid plugs and create new brain cell connections. “

(Coffee) can have a therapeutic effect like a snowball,” he said. “When the body starts to have a (beta-amyloid) accumulation, the more they produce. If you stabilize the (beta-amyloid production), that gives the body some time to digest it. It provides a relief for the rest of the body – it doesn’t need to work as hard.”

However, Arendash said, coffee does not provide any additional benefit to a healthy brain.

“Coffee, when given to an undamaged or normal mouse, produces no benefit, but for a mouse with Alzheimer’s symptoms or destined to develop Alzheimer’s symptoms, there is benefit,” he said. “So if you have a normal brain, you’re not going to make less mistakes – you’ll just make mistakes faster.”

Cao said coffee should be used as a preventative method against Alzheimer’s disease.

“Alzheimer’s disease can lie dormant in the brain for 10 years before you see any symptoms of the disease,” he said. “Some people, as they get older, maybe drink less coffee, they try to cut back. That’s actually the opposite of what you should do. I try to educate people. Don’t give up (coffee), keep going. If three cups is too much, then switch to two cups. It is a benefit to your health.”

With further study, he said he hopes to identify the unknown compound in coffee that seemingly provides these health benefits. Yet, he said attempts to seek support from corporate entities with a common interest, such as Starbucks, Maxwell House and Nestle, have so far been unsuccessful.

Cao said they don’t have enough data to prescribe how much coffee is needed to provide the benefit in humans, but past studies into coffee have shown it is safe to drink moderate amounts – defined as up to four to five cups daily.

Arendash said coffee could prove a better alternative to any medicine that might be developed to combat Alzheimer’s because it is natural.

“I am an individual who would rather find something natural,” he said. “We’re not saying coffee will 100 percent protect against Alzheimer’s, but, in moderation, it is OK, and preferable to any medicine that might provide a side effect.”

Arendash said coffee is the only caffeinated drink that seems to provide the benefit.

“Our initial studies into decaf coffee, Red Bull, chocolate – anything else with caffeine – shows that the method matters. The body really only reacts to coffee,” he said.