Alzheimer’s disease is a scary phenomenon that will likely affect many more Americans in the coming decade. The disease, which is most common among adults over 65, is associated with memory loss. It affects short-term memory at first, but, in its final stages, it impairs people’s ability to recall even close family members’ faces. As baby boomers age and approach 65, researchers have been studying Alzheimer’s in an effort to learn more about how to treat it. They’ve come across one surprising but promising potential treatment, and it’s found at your local coffee shop. Here’s a look at what scientists have learned about the connection between drinking coffee and Alzheimer’s disease.
Caffeine in Coffee Could Prevent Dementia
Over the past couple decades, several studies have looked at coffee and Alzheimer’s disease. Coffee & Health has a helpful summary of many of the studies, which generally find that coffee helps prevent dementia. One study, in particular, helps explain how coffee might help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, which was published by the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), looked at caffeine and dementia in mice. In the study, mice were given caffeine through their drinking water. The caffeine:
- protected the mice against memory impairment in old age
- improved memory in older mice that already had a cognitive impairment
- reduced levels of amyloid-beta, an abnormal protein that is associated with dementia in people
Other Compounds in Coffee Might Help Fight Alzheimer’s
In the above-cited study, mice that were given decaffeinated coffee didn’t experience these results, which suggests that caffeine is largely responsible for the dementia-reducing benefits. There are other compounds in coffee, however, that might also help ward off Alzheimer’s disease. According to studies mentioned by Coffee & Health:
- trigonelline in coffee might contain neuro-protective properties
- polyphenol antioxidant ferulic acid in coffee has been shown to improve spatial and memory-related cognitive deficits
- antioxidants in coffee mimic the benefits of a Mediterranean diet
Just a Moderate Amount of Coffee May Be Enough
Just a moderate amount of coffee may be enough to see these benefits. In the study that looked at caffeine and mice, the mice were given the human equivalent of five cups of coffee a day (500 mg caffeine). Other studies suggest that three cups a day may provide tangible results.
Right now, it looks like coffee may be most helpful before Alzheimer’s sets in, but the finding that mice who had cognitive deficits still benefited from caffeine gives even those with dementia hope.
The precise connection between coffee and Alzheimer’s isn’t completely clear, but researchers continue to learn about it every day. The evidence thus far suggests that coffee could help prevent the onset of dementia, and maybe even reverse its effects after it sets in. We’ll raise a mug to that.