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Brain protected by daily caffeine

7th April 2008

A team of researchers in the United States has found that coffee, which has already been linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer's disease, may impede dementia by stopping cholesterol from entering the brain.

Coffee

Coffee appears to protect a vital barrier between the brain and the main blood supply, the blood-brain barrier, according to recent research in the Journal of Neuroinflammation.

In the study, researchers found that the blood-brain barrier of rabbits who were being fed a fat-rich diet was protected in a group of rabbits given a caffeine supplement.

Experts described caffeine as a safe and readily available drug which might have an important part to play in therapies against neurological disorders.

They said it was the best evidence yet of the benefits of coffee.

The central nervous system is protected from potentially harmful chemicals carried around in the main circulation system by the blood-brain barrier.

There is significant evidence to show that cholesterol can damage the blood-brain barrier's ability to act as a filter, which makes the person vulnerable to brain damage, triggering or contributing to the condition, which is degenerative and incurable.

The rabbits fed with caffeine were given the equivalent to just one cup of coffee a day for humans.

Researchers at the University of North Dakota study found that after 12 weeks of a high-cholesterol diet, the blood brain barrier in those given caffeine was far more intact than in those given no caffeine.

Study lead author Jonathan Geiger said caffeine appeared to block several of the disruptive effects of cholesterol which make the blood-brain barrier leaky.

He said high levels of cholesterol were a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, perhaps by compromising the protective nature of the blood brain barrier.

Other experts agreed that the barrier seemed to work less efficiently in people who went on to develop Alzheimer's or suffer strokes, and that this could be explained by cholesterol.

A spokeswoman for the UK-based Alzheimer's Society said the study provided the best evidence yet that caffeine equivalent to one cup of coffee a day can help protect the brain against cholesterol, which can caused problems with the blood-brain barrier if levels are too elevated.

But she said further research would be needed into whether the same effect would apply in humans.


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