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Coffee could delay Alzheimer's

12th June 2012

Researchers in Florida are telling people to consider taking up coffee in later life, following the results of a study which shows that drinking three cups a day may help turn the tide against Alzheimer's disease.

Coffee

The findings were true of older adults who are already showing signs of memory problems, said the researchers, in an article scheduled for publication in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

Higher blood levels of caffeine in people older than 65 who were already likely to get Alzheimer's was linked to a delayed onset of the disease lasting between two and four years. No such delay was seen in similar participants whose blood caffeine levels were lower.

The research team was led by neuroscientist Chuanhai Cao of the University of South Florida's College of Pharmacy and Byrd Alzheimer's Institute in Tampa, Florida.

It studied 124 people aged 65 to 88 with mild cognitive impairment, or mild memory loss, of whom around 15% would typically be expected to develop Alzheimer's within any given year.

The team found that those who did develop Alzheimer's during follow-up had blood levels of caffeine that were less than half those of the people who did not develop the disease.

The caffeine consumed by the people in the study came mainly from coffee.

Among people who had initial blood caffeine levels of more than 1,200 ng/ml, equivalent to drinking several cups of coffee before being tested, none were in the group that later developed Alzheimer's.

Anyone who showed no progression in their memory loss had more than this level of caffeine in their blood, tests showed.

The symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, which is the most common type of dementia, include serious loss of memory, mood changes and confusion that get progressively worse over time.

Cao told people to "continue to drink coffee," particularly if they are experiencing memory problems.

He said people should perhaps consider starting to drink an average of three, eight ounce cups a day from their late thirties onwards, in the morning after eating breakfast.

Cao speculated that coffee helps delay the development of Alzheimer's by inhibiting the production of beta-amyloid, a protein that accumulates in the brains of people who have Alzheimer's disease.

However, beta-amyloid does not cause Alzheimer's. We are born with this protein in our brains, but it accumulates with advancing age because the body is no longer able to handle all of it.

Previous studies have shown that coffee can reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and breast cancer.

Sam Gandy, Mount Sinai chair in Alzheimer's disease research at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said there was some scientific evidence supporting Cao's enthusiasm for coffee.

He said that a substance called cyclic AMP can reduce formation of amyloid, and it is well known that caffeine elevates cyclic AMP levels.

He said that caffeine could also improve memory because it improves the ability to concentrate.

However, he said caffeine should now be tested for use in Alzheimer's prevention using randomized clinical trials.


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