Anti-Aging Therapies: Can Coffee Protect Against Alzheimer’s?

Every coffeehound knows how important that beautiful brew can be. It wakes us up in the morning, it’s the midafternoon pause that refreshes, and it’s the ideal accompaniment to after-dinner everything, from dessert to discussions. We know it makes us feel better … but can it actually help our brains function better?

It looks like the answer is yes. A University of North Carolina study on the effects of drinking coffee concluded that caffeine is a safe and reliable drug that could potentially play a role in the therapies against neurological disorders. It is even believed that drinking coffee could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, one of the most wide-spread and devastating of all age-related disorders.

How coffee protects the brain
Coffee’s protective powers center on what medical experts call the “blood brain barrier”, a natural filter that guards the central nervous system against potentially dangerous chemicals that may be carried through the rest of the bloodstream. It is believed that high cholesterol levels in the blood have an adverse effect of this filter, weakening the barrier against these chemicals and leaving the brain vulnerable to damage.

The University of North Dakota study showed that after three months of a high-cholesterol diet, the blood brain barrier in rabbits that had ingested the equivalent of just one cup of coffee per day was far more intact than the barrier in those that had been given no caffeine.

Research on Alzheimer’s disease indicates that a weak or “leaky” blood brain barrier that makes cholesterol damage to the brain possible is among the factors that can trigger or contribute to the disease.

Caffeine shown to reverse Alzheimer’s symptoms

A recent University of Florida study even suggests that caffeine could actually reverse some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. The study used mice bred to develop symptoms of the disease, which were tested to confirm that they were exhibiting the same kind of memory impairment that human Alzheimer’s sufferers experience.

Half the mice were then put on a daily regimen that included the caffeine equivalent of five cups coffee added to their drinking water, while half the mice had no caffeine added to their water.

After two months both groups of mice were retested, and it was found that the mice that had been drinking the caffeine-added water performed significantly better on memory and thinking skills, actually testing as well as mice that had not been bred to develop dementia. The mice that had been drinking non-caffeinated water showed no improvement in the tests.

Even more encouragingly, it was found that the brains of the mice given caffeine showed as much as 50% reduction in levels of beta amyloid protein, which is the basis of the destructive plaque that builds up in the brains of dementia patients. The research suggested that caffeine had this effect because it suppresses brain inflammation that leads to over-production of the protein.

Experts warn that while these results are extremely positive, more research is needed to determine whether caffeine has the same effects on people.

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