Magic memory beans

Coffee drinking has firmly entrenched itself in our culture. Suggesting to a friend, “Let’s do sandwiches” or even “Let’s do hot chocolate” just lacks the cache of “Let’s do coffee”. Then there is the paraphernalia attached to coffee drinking and the endless of variations open to you; there’s your organic, your shade grown, your decaf, your Kenyan, your Brazilian, and your brew made from the faeces of an Armenian ferret raised entirely on a diet of biscotti and Arabica beans. Yes, coffee is a societal and global phenomenon enjoyed by billions. Usually such popular commodities come with health warnings and it is true that too much coffee is not a good thing for your nervous system and your cardiovascular system but the good news is that a moderate daily intake of coffee protects your brain against Alzheimer’s Disease.

The process of Alzheimer’s Disease involves plaques and tangles accumulating in the brain and in the process killing nerve cells and destroying connections between neurons. The end result of this damage is irreversible memory loss but the degenerative process begins one or two decades before any symptoms appear. Early signs of Alzheimer’s include some short-term memory loss and are called “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI). In this study the researchers chose to examine people with MCI aged between 65 and 88. Each year around fifteen per cent of people with MCI progress into Alzheimer’s so the researchers wanted to check caffeine levels in these people and see if they related to their chances of progressing.

Those who progressed from MCI into dementia during the four years of follow-up had blood caffeine levels that were 51 per cent lower at the start of the study than people who did not progress.

Additionally, no-one with MCI who later developed Alzheimer’s had blood caffeine levels above 1200ng/ml, which is equivalent to that achieved by drinking three cups of coffee a few hours before the sample was taken. Conversely, no-one who had more than 1200ng/ml of caffeine in their blood progressed from MCI to Alzheimer’s.

The researchers believed that this 1200ng/ml level of caffeine reflects habitually higher caffeine intake, most probably via coffee. The reason that they suspect the caffeine came from coffee is that the memory-protected MCI people had the same immune markers in their blood as did Alzheimer’s mice given caffeinated coffee. Alzheimer’s mice given caffeine alone had different immune markers. It is believed that as yet unidentified chemicals in coffee interact with caffeine to boost levels of a growth factor that fights the disease process in Alzheimer’s.

As we said earlier, too much coffee is not a good thing but these researchers believe that moderate coffee intake, around three cups a day, is a valuable dietary option to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease.

At the least, the good news from an ageing perspective is that when you go to the coffee shop as a senior coffee-drinking citizen, should the waitress bring you the wrong drink you’ll be able to correct her because you’ll remember what you ordered.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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