How coffee, not caffeine, protects against Alzheimer’s

July 12, 2011
Volume 08    |   Issue 29

You may have heard that something in coffee protects against Alzheimer’s disease. For years, we’ve known caffeinated coffee gives memory a boost. Past studies suggested that caffeine was the primary protective factor. It’s true that caffeine is one beneficial ingredient in coffee. But it’s not the only one.

Researchers at the University of Florida discovered that a yet-unknown substance in coffee also protects your memory. It does so by boosting a growth factor that fights this dreaded memory loss.

This growth factor, called GCSF (granulocyte colony stimulating factor) decreases the protein beta-amyloid. Most studies suggest this is what causes Alzheimer’s. In both normal mice and mice with Alzheimer’s, caffeinated coffee increased GCSF blood levels. Caffeine alone or decaf coffee didn’t.

It’s true that caffeinated coffee increases blood levels of GCSF. However, this new study indicates that coffee offers a greater protection than any other caffeinated beverages. So it’s not just the caffeine.

And long-term treatment with coffee improves memory in mice with Alzheimer’s. The higher the coffee intake, the better the memory. The researchers saw protective effects when the participants consumed four to five cups of coffee a day.

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But just what is the mystery ingredient in coffee that reduces the risk for Alzheimer’s disease? Is it coffee’s antioxidants or anti-inflammatory substances? And do its benefits apply to the mild cognitive impairment that precedes full-blown Alzheimer’s? It’s too early to know. First, researchers need to identify this mystery component.

There are studies that show GCSF improved memory in mice with Alzheimer’s. Fortunately, a new study is now underway. They want to see if GCSF treatment can prevent the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in people with mild cognitive impairment. The researchers of this latest study recommend people begin drinking more coffee beginning in middle age (30s to 50s). But they also recognize that starting much later could still be beneficial.

Coffee has gone from being greatly maligned to a healthful beverage. Recent studies link moderate coffee consumption with a lower risk for breast and prostate cancer, Parkinson’s disease, type-2 diabetes, and stroke. While it’s not the total solution for these diseases of aging, it appears to play a greater role in our health than previously thought. And the good news is that it’s readily available and inexpensive.

So feel free drink a few cups of coffee each morning. It could help spare your memory. A word of caution: These studies did not use coffee doused with sugar and cream. To reap coffee’s healthful benefits, make sure you drink yours black.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Caffeine Synergizes with Another Coffee Component to Increase Plasma GCSF: Linkage to Cognitive Benefits in Alzheimer's Mice; Chuanhai Cao, Li Wang, Xiaoyang Lin, Malgorzata Mamcarz, Chi Zhang, Ge Bai, Jasson Nong, Sam Sussman and Gary Arendash; Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 25(2), June 28, 2011.

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