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Could coffee reverse Alzheimer’s?

July 6, 2009
Courtesy University of South Florida Health 
and World Science staff

Cof­fee drinkers may have an­oth­er rea­son to pour that ex­tra cup. When aged mice bred to de­vel­op symp­toms of Alzheimer’s dis­ease were giv­en caf­feine – the equiv­a­lent of five cups of cof­fee a day – their mem­o­ry im­pair­ment was re­versed, re­port Un­ivers­ity of South Flor­i­da re­search­ers.

Two stud­ies pub­lished on­line July 5 in the Jour­nal of Alz­heim­er’s Dis­ease found caf­feine sig­nif­i­cantly de­creased ab­nor­mal lev­els of the pro­tein linked to Alz­heim­er’s dis­ease, both in the brains and in the blood of mice ex­hibit­ing symp­toms of the dis­ease. Both stud­ies build on pre­vi­ous work by the Flor­i­da group find­ing that caf­feine in early adult­hood pre­vented the on­set of mem­o­ry prob­lems in mice bred to de­vel­op Alz­heim­er’s symp­toms in old age.

“The new find­ings pro­vide ev­i­dence that caf­feine could be a vi­a­ble ‘treat­ment’ for es­tab­lished Alz­heim­er’s dis­ease, and not simply a pro­tec­tive strat­e­gy,” said lead au­thor Gary Aren­dash, a neu­ro­sci­ent­ist at the un­ivers­ity. “That’s im­por­tant be­cause caf­feine is a safe drug for most peo­ple, it easily en­ters the brain, and it ap­pears to di­rectly af­fect the dis­ease pro­cess.”

Based on the find­ings in mice, re­search­ers at the Flor­i­da group hope to beg­in hu­man tri­als to eval­u­ate wheth­er caf­feine can ben­e­fit peo­ple with mild cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment or early Alz­heim­er’s dis­ease, said Hun­ting­ton Pot­ter, di­rector of the Alz­heim­er’s Dis­ease Re­search Cen­ter at the un­ivers­ity and an in­ves­ti­ga­tor for the caf­feine stud­ies. The group pre­viously de­ter­mined that caf­feine ad­min­is­tered to eld­erly non-demented hu­mans quickly af­fects their blood lev­els of be­ta-am­y­loid pro­tein, just as it did in the Alz­heim­er’s mice.

“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, and this re­duc­tion is linked to cog­ni­tive ben­e­fit,” Pot­ter said. “Our goal is to ob­tain the fund­ing needed to trans­late the ther­a­peu­tic dis­cov­er­ies in mice in­to well-de­signed clin­i­cal tri­als.” 

If larg­er, more rig­or­ous clin­i­cal stud­ies con­firm that caf­feine staves off Alzheimer’s in hu­mans, as it does in mice, this ben­e­fit would be sub­stantial, Aren­dash said. Alzheimer’s dis­ease at­tacks nearly half of Amer­i­cans age 85 and old­er, and Alzheimer’s and oth­er de­men­tias tri­ple health­care costs for those age 65 and old­er, ac­cord­ing to the Alzheimer’s As­socia­t­ion.


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Coffee drinkers may have another reason to pour that extra cup. When aged mice bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease were given caffeine – the equivalent of five cups of coffee a day – their memory impairment was reversed, report University of South Florida researchers. Two studies published online July 5 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found caffeine significantly decreased abnormal levels of the protein linked to Alzheimer’s disease, both in the brains and in the blood of mice exhibiting symptoms of the disease. Both studies build upon previous research by the Florida group showing that caffeine in early adulthood prevented the onset of memory problems in mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s symptoms in old age. “The new findings provide evidence that caffeine could be a viable ‘treatment’ for established Alzheimer’s disease, and not simply a protective strategy,” said lead author Gary Arendash, a neuroscientist at the university. “That’s important because caffeine is a safe drug for most people, it easily enters the brain, and it appears to directly affect the disease process.” Based on the findings in mice, researchers at the Florida group hope to begin human trials to evaluate whether caffeine can benefit people with mild cognitive impairment or early Alzheimer’s disease, said Huntington Potter, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the university and an investigator for the caffeine studies. The group has already determined that caffeine administered to elderly non-demented humans quickly affects their blood levels of beta-amyloid protein, just as it did in the Alzheimer’s mice. “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, and this reduction is linked to cognitive benefit,” Potter said. “Our goal is to obtain the funding needed to translate the therapeutic discoveries in mice into well-designed clinical trials.” If larger, more rigorous clinical studies confirm that caffeine staves off Alzheimer’s in humans, as it does in mice, this benefit would be substantial, Arendash said. Alzheimer’s disease attacks nearly half of Americans age 85 and older, and Alzheimer’s and other dementias triple healthcare costs for those age 65 and older, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.