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Coffee & Dementia
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Alzheimer's disease is a brain disorder characterized by memory loss, as well as personality changes and speech and language difficulties. It is the most common form of dementia among older people. The disease usually begins after age 60 and the risk increases with advancing age. It is estimated that about 5% of men and women between the ages of 65-74 have Alzheimer's disease. The number of individuals affected by this condition doubles every 5 years beyond age 65. Alzheimer's disease is named after Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a German physician, who first noticed changes in the brain of a woman who died of an unusual mental illness. One hundred years later, it is still not fully understood what causes Alzheimer's disease, but there may be several contributing factors.
In this condition, the parts of the brain that control memory, language, and thought are particularly impacted. Early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease include forgetfulness, impaired judgment, and difficulty in solving math problems. In more advanced stages, individuals can fail to recognize familiar people and places, and they may have difficulty in reading, writing, speaking, and understanding.
Some research suggests that caffeine may protect against memory decline in patients already diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Some studies have also shown an inverse relationship between coffee intake or caffeine ingestion and the risk of developing dementia.
Researchers at the Byrd Alzheimer Institute in Tampa, Florida examined the effects of caffeine intake on mice bred to develop an Alzheimer-like disease. The experimental mice were given water spiked with caffeine. They consumed the human equivalent of about 5 cups of coffee per day. The control group of mice drank plain water. Months later, the mice ingesting caffeine in their water performed better than the control group in mazes designed to test their memory. The results appeared in the November 3, 2006 issue of the journal, Neuroscience. (GW Arendash, et al. Caffeine protects Alzheimer's mice against cognitive impairment and reduces beta-amyloid production. Neuroscience. 2006 Nov 3;142(4):941-52.
In a prospective investigation, called the FINE study and conducted in Europe, coffee intake was inversely associated with cognitive decline. This study evaluated 676 elderly, healthy men born between 1900 and 1920 over a 10-year period. At the end of the study period, coffee drinkers had better mental function, as measured by the Mini-Mental State Exam, than the non-consumers of coffee. The least decrease in cognitive performance was found in those men that drank 3 cups of coffee a day. (Read More)
It is speculated that caffeine may protect against dementia in a few ways. First, it can stimulate brain cells to take in a chemical called choline. This compound is a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that is reduced in amount in patients with Alzheimer's disease. Neurotransmitters allow brain cells to talk to one another. A second way that caffeine can be beneficial is by interfering with the action of another chemical called adenosine. Finally, caffeine and caffeine-like substances may protect the brain against overactivity of a class of cells in the brain called glia that normally remove injured cells; when these cells are overactive, normal cells can be damaged.
Coffee contains caffeine, as well as antioxidants. Many studies have demonstrated a link between coffee ingestion and a variety of health benefits - including lower risks of Parkinson's disease, type II diabetes, cirrhosis, and gallstones. It is hoped that further investigations will help clarify what impact coffee ingestion and caffeine intake have on the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.For more about the possible influence of coffee ingestion on the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, see the following links: