Dementia compromises a persons’ thinking, memory and reasoning capabilities, as well as their overall mental performance capacity. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia and there is no single, definitive way of preventing this form of dementia, nor is there a treatment to cure it. There are however, ways to reduce ones risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease and a new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (June 5th, 2012), has discovered that a high daily intake of caffeine is one of them.
A New Treatment for Alzheimer’s?
New diagnostic guidelines allow doctors to identify Alzheimer’s disease in its earlier stages before it completely develops. It is estimated that 10 million Americans fall into one of the three pre- Alzheimer’s stages and this number is on the rise. Mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, is one of the pre- Alzheimer’s stages and it is used to describe patients who have some Alzheimer’s pathology in their brains, who experience a degree of short-term memory loss and who are likely to develop dementia within three years. The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Miami and the University of South Florida and it included 124 MCI participants over the age of 65, from Tampa and Miami.
The researchers measured blood caffeine levels of the participants at the onset of the study, and then measured them again at a two-to-four year follow up session. The researchers found that the participants with mild cognitive impairment who progressed to dementia by the time of the follow-up had significantly lower (51 percent less) blood caffeine levels than those participants whose MCI remained stable. In fact, not one of the MCI participants who developed Alzheimer’s had caffeine levels above the critical level of 1200 ng/ml. In contrast, “We found that 100 percent of the MCI patients with plasma caffeine levels above the critical level (indicative of the consumption of several cups of coffee prior to the blood test) experienced no conversion to Alzheimer’s disease during the two-to-four year follow-up period,” said study co-author Dr. Gary Arendash.
Coffee for Alzheimer’s and Dementia
It should be noted that coffee appeared to be the primary if not only source of caffeine for the study participants, and other caffeinated beverages may not produce the same dementia preventing effects. According to USF’s study authors Dr. Cao and Dr. Arendash, caffeine appears to act synergistically with a certain component of coffee, and when consumed together, they increase blood levels of a growth factor that is suspected to halt the dementia process. In addition, previous studies done on mice found that caffeine alone did not produce the same dementia reducing effects as caffeinated coffee did.
What This Means for Future Treatments
“Moderate daily consumption of caffeinated coffee appears to be the best dietary option for long-term protection against Alzheimer’s memory loss,” states study coauthor Dr. Arendash. “Coffee is inexpensive, readily available, easily gets into the brain, and has few side-effects for most of us. Moreover, our studies show that caffeine and coffee appear to directly attack the Alzheimer’s disease process.” However, study lead author Dr. Chuanhai Cao, a neuroscientist at the USF College of Pharmacy and the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute, cautions that “We are not saying that moderate coffee consumption will completely protect people from Alzheimer’s disease. However, we firmly believe that moderate coffee consumption can appreciably reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s or delay its onset.” In addition, “these intriguing results suggest that older adults with mild memory impairment who drink moderate levels of coffee — about 3 cups a day — will not convert to Alzheimer’s disease — or at least will experience a substantial delay before converting to Alzheimer’s.”