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Does coffee lower the risk of Alzheimer's?

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Is there a link between caffeine levels in the blood and developing Alzheimer's?

Is there a link between caffeine levels in the blood and developing Alzheimer's?

According to researchers from the University of South Florida and the University of Miami, perhaps that daily pick-me-up may have more beneficial effects than we thought. For some, it's a necessary ritual to begin the 9-5 grind, for others it's a way to wind down after a long day in the office.

But what if the effects of caffeine and having a certain level of the chemical in your blood can do more than wake you after vacating your bed on a frosty morning?

The scientists took a sample of the older generation -- anyone beyond the age of 65 -- and monitored their memory and thought capabilities. Published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, they found that there appears to be a "direct link" between preventing the offset of neuro-degenerative diseases, Alzheimer's and dementia, and enjoying your coffee during the day.

In a follow-up study of 2 - 4 years, it was apparent that the participants who had a higher blood caffeine level avoided the onset of Alzheimer's disease for longer in comparison to counterparts with small amounts of the chemical in their bloodstreams.

The research involved a study group of 124 people, aged between 65 to 88 and resident in Tampa and Miami. Study lead author Dr. Chuanhai Cao, neuroscientist and the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer's Institute said:

"These intriguing results suggest that older adults with mild memory impairment who drink moderate levels of coffee -- about 3 cups a day -- will not convert to Alzheimer's disease -- or at least will experience a substantial delay before converting to Alzheimer's.

The results from this study, along with our earlier studies in Alzheimer's mice, are very consistent in indicating that moderate daily caffeine/coffee intake throughout adulthood should appreciably protect against Alzheimer's disease later in life."

In order to focus on whether these factors could help prevent the onset of neuro-degenerative disease, the control group were all suffers of MCI -- mild cognitive impairment -- which is an early sign of problems to come. Each participant had these early warnings of Alzheimer's, and experienced some short-term memory loss and the initial stages of Alzheimer's pathology. Approximately 15 percent of MCI suffers develop more serious conditions within several years.

The difference between the coffee drinkers and ones without higher levels of caffeine in their blood -- and how quickly they developed dementia -- is the crux of how curious these findings are. The blood caffeine level in those who declined during the two-to-four year follow-up was 51 percent lower than their counterparts who remained stable.

The participants who developed Alzheimer's during this period all had caffeine levels below the "critical" level of 1200 ng/ml -- equivalent to several cups of coffee a few hours before blood samples were taken. In comparison, many who remained stable had blood caffeine levels higher than this.

"We found that 100 percent of the MCI patients with plasma caffeine levels above the critical level experienced no conversion to Alzheimer's disease during the two-to-four year follow-up period." Study co-author Dr. Gary Arendash noted.

The team have been researching the effects of coffee/caffeine intake in Alzheimer's mice since 2006. Recently, they have reported that an unidentified component in coffee appears to promote a growth factor in blood levels that battle the disease.

Coffee was the main source of intake for caffeine in the study participants, and as previous research has shown that administering the chemical alone does not have the same beneficial effects, further study is needed to try and find out what component exactly in coffee may delay the onset of these diseases.

Dr. Cao said:

"We are not saying that moderate coffee consumption will completely protect people from Alzheimer's disease. However, we firmly believe that moderate coffee consumption can appreciably reduce your risk of Alzheimer's or delay its onset."

Approximately 10 million Americans are currently within one of three developmental stages of the neuro-degenerative disease -- pathology only, MCI, or diagnosed.

(via Science Daily)

Image credit: Martin Fisch

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure