Alzheimer’s Disease is a very progressive brain disorder that slowly deteriorates the memory and thinking skills of an individual, ultimately affecting their ability to carry out simple tasks. It’s most common in elderly adults over the age of 60, and is ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in America.
Many of you reading this article may already know someone suffering from AD, or dementia, as it’s estimated that more than 5 million Americans currently have this debilitating disease. I personally lost a family member to dementia, which is said to be caused by AD, and it is a truly heartbreaking and devastating disease that affects so many people.
While there is still no current cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, or dementia, many new studies are showing positive results surrounding the prevention and protection against the disease, and coffee is proving to be a strong contender in the fight.
What Causes Alzheimer’s Disease?
The true cause of Alzheimer’s Disease is still unknown, but many scientists believe that it may be attributed to a genetic mutation for early onset AD, or from a complex series of brain changes that occur over time for late-onset AD. These brain changes likely include everything from genetics, environmental aspects, to lifestyle factors.
Genetics are said to play an important role in the late-onset of Alzheimer’s Disease – which is what most older adults suffer from – and studies have shown that the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene may be responsible for this.
This gene has many forms, with one of those forms being the APOE ε4 gene, which is said to increase the risk of late-onset and early onset AD in adults who have the gene. However, people carrying the APOE ε4 does not mean that they are guaranteed to get Alzheimer’s, as many people who do not have this gene are still at risk for the disease.
Health and Lifestyle Factors
In addition to genetics, health and lifestyle factors are of great interest to scientists who believe they may play a significant role in the development of this disease. There are studies being done on the relationship between cognitive brain decline and health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.
Maintaining a healthy diet, physical exercise, and mentally stimulating activities are not only key for a long and healthy life, but may help reduce the risk of cognitive decline which can result in Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Amyloid-Beta (Abeta) Protein
Studies done by scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine have shown a connection between a specific protein fragment, known as amyloid-beta (Abeta), and the deterioration of brain synapses that lead to Alzheimer’s Disease.
The presence of this abnormal protein in the brain is shown to cause a loss of synapses – the contact points between nerve cells – which control many brain functions including the ability to remember. The study of this Abeta protein may be the key to finding the cause behind Alzheimer’s and dementia.
How Does Coffee Play A Role?
While a cure for AD is still being researched, studies have shown that coffee can effectively protect against memory impairment and reduce the amount of Abeta protein in the brain. Caffeine given to “aged” mice, who were cognitively impaired, showed an increase in memory restoration, and lower Abeta levels in the brain after just 1-2 months of caffeine treatment.
Studies are showing a very strong link between caffeinated coffee and the reduction of blood Abeta levels, which are thought to be a cause of developing Alzheimer’s. Decaffeinated coffee, however, was shown to not have the same effect.
It appears that caffeine plays a very important role in protecting our brains from producing this abnormal Abeta protein, and even to reduce the Abeta levels in someone who may already have signs of cognitive decline.
Interestingly enough, caffeinated tea drinkers were shown to have no protection against AD.
Other Benefits Of Coffee
Drinking coffee may not only have a protective effect against AD, but the antioxidants found specifically in coffee have also been shown to protect against other cognitive deficits.
The polyphenol antioxidant in coffee, known as ferulic acid, has shown in mice to protect against spatial and working memory, suppress inflammation, and even prevent the loss of acetylcholine from the brain. All these factors play a significant role in the potential development of Alzheimer’s Disease.
If you would like to learn more about coffee and how to drink it, check out my article on how to make a great cup of coffee.
Do you know someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s? Do you think drinking coffee can help?