You may not think of your morning cup of coffee or tea as having anti-inflammatory properties, but it does. A study at the University of Illinois found that the caffeine these drinks contain blocks inflammation in the brain. This is the kind of inflammation that can cause neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
We've seen in the past that drinking caffeine can reduce your risk of Alzheimer's. And now a new study confirms that it does indeed work – and they showed how it works.
In this study, researchers from the University of Illinois College of Medicine examined the effects of caffeine on memory formation in two groups of mice. They gave one group caffeine, and the other group a placebo. Then they exposed the two groups to hypoxia. This cuts off oxygen from the brain for a few seconds. It simulates what happens when a health event interrupts your breathing or blood flow to the brain.
When oxygen doesn't reach your brain, it chocks off brain cells and can cause permanent injury to your brain. If your body can heal the damage, you can recover your memories. If not, the event can permanently damage your memory. The mice taking the caffeine recovered their ability to form new memory 33% faster than the other group. In fact, the lead researchers said the caffeine had the same anti-inflammatory effect as blocking IL-1 signaling. When you block IL-1, it reduces the inflammation associated with many neurodegenerative diseases.
But that's not all the researchers found. They wanted to know why caffeine works. Here's what they found: Their research showed that blocking oxygen delivery triggered the release of adenosine by brain cells. Adenosine is the fuel that powers your cells. When it leaks, it's like your car when it leaks gasoline – it endangers everything around the leak. In other words, the leak causes inflammation.
But caffeine blocks all the activity of adenosine. It prevents the process that causes the inflammation. This limits the damage to your brain and protects it from further injury.
So if a cup of coffee doesn't jangle your nerves or raise your blood pressure, enjoy it guilt-free. If you get a mild reaction like difficulty sleeping, try a cup of green tea instead. It's lower in caffeine but high in theobromine, which lets you sleep.
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If you can't drink either, or don't want to, you can get a tiny bit of caffeine from Green Tea Extract. And you'll get all the additional protection that green tea provides.
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Dr. Janet Zand
Chiu, G.S., D. Chatterjee, P.T. Darmody, J.P. Walsh, D.D. Meling, R.W. Johnson, and G.G. Freund. “Hypoxia/Reoxygenation Impairs Memory Formation via Adenosine-Dependent Activation of Caspase 1.” Journal of Neuroscience, 2012; 32 (40): 13945 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0704-12.2012.