Discovering a way to prevent, delay or treat Alzheimer’s disease is a major area of medical research. And learning about the latest health benefits of coffee is a hot topic in nutrition.
(Learn more about Delaying Alzheimer’s Symptoms)
New research supported by the NIH-designated Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center brings these two areas of research together, finding that another health benefit of coffee might be to help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
To understand why the coffee research is so exciting, here is a quick look at the scope of Alzheimer’s drug development, from a pharmaceutical industry statement late last year.
Searching for an Alzheimer’s Medicine
America’s biopharmaceutical companies are researching 98 medicines for dementia, mostly Alzheimer’s, according to The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. All 98 are either in clinical trials or under review by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The work indicates a major commitment to Alzheimer’s, given that each new medicine costs, on average, more than $1 billion to research and develop.
Florida Researchers Point to Coffee’s Health Benefits
"No synthetic drugs have yet been developed to treat the underlying Alzheimer’s disease process" said Dr. Gary Arendash, the study’s other lead author. "We see no reason why an inherently natural product such as coffee cannot be more beneficial and safer than medications, especially to protect against a disease that takes decades to become apparent after it starts in the brain."
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Health Benefits of Coffee for Alzheimer’s disease
A yet unidentified component of coffee interacts with the beverage’s caffeine, which could be a surprising reason why daily coffee intake protects against Alzheimer’s disease.
These findings on the new coffee health benefits appear in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. http://www.j-alz.com
Previous Coffee Research
Previous observational studies in humans reported that daily coffee/caffeine intake during mid-life and in older age decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The USF researchers’ earlier studies in Alzheimer’s mice indicated that caffeine was likely the ingredient in coffee that provides these health benefits because it decreases brain production of the abnormal protein beta-amyloid, which is thought to cause the disease.
Beyond Caffeine—Other Benefits of Coffee
The new study does not diminish the importance of caffeine to protect against Alzheimer’s. Rather it shows that caffeinated coffee induces an increase in blood levels of a growth factor called GCSF (granulocyte colony stimulating factor). GCSF is a substance greatly decreased in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and demonstrated to improve memory in Alzheimer’s mice. A just-completed clinical trial at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute is investigating GCSF treatment to prevent full-blown Alzheimer’s in patients with mild cognitive impairment, a condition preceding the disease. The results of that trial are currently being evaluated and should be known soon.
"Caffeinated coffee provides a natural increase in blood GCSF levels," said USF neuroscientist Dr. Chuanhai Cao, lead author of the study. "The exact way that this occurs is not understood. There is a synergistic interaction between caffeine and some mystery component of coffee that provides this beneficial increase in blood GCSF levels."
Enriching Coffee and Other Products for Health
The researchers would like to identify this yet unknown component so that coffee and other beverages could be enriched with it to provide long-term protection against Alzheimer’s.
Although the present study was performed in Alzheimer’s mice, the researchers indicated that they’ve gathered clinical evidence of caffeine/coffee’s ability to protect humans against Alzheimer’s and will soon publish those findings.
4 to 5 Cups of Coffee Per Day for Protective Benefits
4 to 5 cups of coffee a day appear necessary to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. The USF researchers previously reported this level of coffee/caffeine intake was needed to counteract the brain pathology and memory impairment in Alzheimer’s mice. The average American drinks 1½ to 2 cups of coffee a day, considerably less than the amount the researchers believe protects against Alzheimer’s.
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Start Drinking Coffee By At Least 30s-50s
The researchers believe that moderate daily coffee intake starting at least by middle age (30s – 50s) is optimal for providing benefits to health in the form of protection against Alzheimer’s disease, although starting to drink coffee even in older age appears protective from their studies. "We are not saying that daily moderate coffee consumption will completely protect people from getting Alzheimer’s disease," Dr. Cao said. "However, we do believe that moderate coffee consumption can appreciably reduce your risk of this dreaded disease or delay its onset."
Conclusion—Coffee is Best Source of Caffeine for Alzheimer’s
The researchers conclude that coffee is the best source of caffeine to counteract the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s.
Coffee also contains many ingredients other than caffeine that potentially offer cognitive benefits against Alzheimer’s disease. "The average American gets most of their daily antioxidants intake through coffee," Dr. Cao said. "Coffee is high in anti-inflammatory compounds that also may provide protective benefits against Alzheimer’s disease."
An increasing body of scientific literature indicates that moderate consumption of coffee decreases the risk of several diseases of aging, including Parkinson’s disease, Type II diabetes and stroke. Just within the last few months, new studies have reported that drinking coffee in moderation may also significantly reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancers.
Daily Consumption of Coffee Best Option
"Because Alzheimer’s starts in the brain several decades before it is diagnosed, any protective therapy would obviously need to be taken for decades," Dr. Cao said. "We believe moderate daily consumption of caffeinated coffee is the best current option for long-term protection against Alzheimer’s memory loss. Coffee is inexpensive, readily available, easily gets into the brain, appears to directly attack the disease process, and has few side-effects for most of us."
According to the researchers, no other Alzheimer’s therapy being developed comes close to meeting all these criteria.
"Aside from coffee, two other lifestyle choices — physical and cognitive activity — appear to reduce the risk of dementia. Combining regular physical and mental exercise with moderate coffee consumption would seem to be an excellent multi-faceted approach to reducing risk or delaying Alzheimer’s," Dr. Arendash said.
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“Caffeine Synergizes with Another Coffee Component to Increase Plasma GCSF: Linkage to Cognitive Benefits in Alzheimer’s Mice” ; Chuanhai Cao, Li Wang, Xiaoyang Lin, Malgorzata Mamcarz, Chi Zhang, Ge Bai, Jasson Nong, Sam Sussman and Gary Arendash; Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 25(2), June 28, 2011.
This USF study was funded by the NIH-designated Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the State of Florida.
USF Health is dedicated to creating a model of health care based on understanding the full spectrum of health. It includes the University of South Florida’s colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Public Health and Pharmacy, the School of Biomedical Sciences and the School of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences; and the USF Physician’s Group.