50+ health * Mental wellbeing

Can coffee help reverse Alzheimer's ?

drinking coffee may protect against alzheimers Coffee reduces brain plaques in animal study

Scientists in the US have discovered that coffee added to the drinking water of mice improves their memory and reverses changes in the brain linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous research has suggested that coffee may provide a protective effect against Alzheimer’s. A Portuguese study found that people with Alzheimer's consumed less caffeine over the last 20 years than people without the neurodegenerative disease. Other studies have found that moderate caffeine consumption may protect against memory loss during normal ageing.

In this study, scientists from the University of South Florida (USF) looked at the effect of caffeine on mice which had been genetically altered to develop symptoms mimicking Alzheimer's disease.

Half the mice, aged 18 to 19 months - equivalent to a 70 year old human - were given caffeine in their drinking water, and the other half given just water.

After two months, scientists found that the mice taking caffeine performed much better in mental tests designed to measure memory and thinking ability, compared with mice given water alone.

In fact, the Alzheimer's mice given caffeine showed the same mental skills as normal aged mice without dementia. This suggests the caffeine both stopped and reversed the mental decline showed by the mice at the start of the study.

The researchers found that the brains of the mice had changed. Mice given caffeine had an almost 50% reduction in beta amyloid, a protein linked to plaque formation in the brain in Alzheimer's disease.

"These are some of the most promising Alzheimer's mouse experiments ever done showing that caffeine rapidly reduces beta amyloid protein in the blood, an effect that is mirrored in the brain," said Dr. Huntington Potter, director of the Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Centre.

The mice were given the equivalent of five 8 ounce (227 grams) cups of coffee a day. This equates to the same amount of caffeine - 500 milligrams - contained in two cups of "specialty" coffee from a coffee shop, 14 cups of tea, or 20 soft drinks, say the researchers.

The scientists also investigated whether caffeine would boost the memory of normal mice, without neurodegenerative disease. No improvement was found.

"This suggests that caffeine will not improve memory performance above normal levels. Rather, it appears to benefit those destined to develop Alzheimer's disease," USF neuroscientist Gary Arendash commented.

The research team now want to conduct clinical trials to find out if the same results can be found in humans.

This article was published on Mon 6 July 2009

Image © torben - Fotolia.com

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