Does mystery component in coffee fight Alzheimer’s?

A mouse study suggests that a yet-unidentified component in coffee combined with caffeine might fight Alzheimer’s disease and improve memory.

An Alzheimer’s mouse study by researchers at the University of South Florida has shown that a yet-unidentified component of coffee interacts with caffeine in the beverage, boosting a critical growth factor that seems to fight off the Alzheimer’s disease process and improve memory in mice. The findings will appear online in the June 28, 2011 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The USF study — funded by the NIH-designated Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the State of Florida — presents the first evidence that caffeinated coffee offers protection against Alzheimer’s disease and that this particular effect is not evident with other caffeine-containing drinks or decaffeinated coffee.

Image Credit: BenFrantzDale

The new study shows that caffeinated coffee increases levels of a growth factor called granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GCSF). GCSF is a substance greatly decreased in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and demonstrated to improve memory in Alzheimer’s mice.

USF neuroscientist Chuanhai Cao, lead author of the study, said:

Caffeinated coffee provides a natural increase in blood GCSF levels. The exact way that this occurs is not understood. There is a synergistic interaction between caffeine and some mystery component of coffee that provides this beneficial increase in blood GCSF levels.

The researchers would like to identify this yet unknown component so that coffee and other beverages could be enriched with it to provide long-term protection against Alzheimer’s.

Caffeinated vs. Decaffeinated

In their study, the researchers found that treatment with caffeinated coffee greatly increased blood levels of GCSF; neither caffeine alone nor decaffeinated coffee provided this effect. Because the researchers used only drip coffee in their studies, they do not know whether instant caffeinated coffee would provide the same result.

The researchers identified three ways that long-term treatment with coffee seems to improve memory performance in Alzheimer’s mice. GCSF recruits stem cells from bone marrow to enter the brain and remove the harmful beta-amyloid protein that initiates the disease. GCSF also creates new connections between brain cells and increases the birth of new neurons in the brain.

Cao explained:

All three mechanisms could complement caffeine’s ability to suppress beta amyloid production in the brain. Together these actions appear to give coffee an amazing potential to protect against Alzheimer’s — but only if you drink moderate amounts of caffeinated coffee.

The researchers said they’ve gathered clinical evidence of coffee’s ability to protect humans against Alzheimer’s and will soon publish those findings.

How Many Cups?

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Coffee is safe for most Americans to consume in the moderate amounts (four to five cups a day) that appear necessary to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. The average American drinks one and a half to two cups of coffee a day, less than the amount the researchers believe protects against Alzheimer’s.

Gary Arendash, the study’s other lead author, said:

No synthetic drugs have yet been developed to treat the underlying Alzheimer’s disease process. We see no reason why an inherently natural product such as coffee cannot be more beneficial and safer than medications, especially to protect against a disease that takes decades to become apparent after it starts in the brain.

The researchers believe that moderate daily coffee intake starting at least by middle age (30s – 50s) is optimal for providing protection against Alzheimer’s disease, although starting in older age appears protective also, according to results from their studies. Cao said:

We are not saying that daily moderate coffee consumption will completely protect people from getting Alzheimer’s disease. However, we do believe that moderate coffee consumption can appreciably reduce your risk of this dreaded disease or delay its onset.

Image Credit: Fernando Rebelo

Summary: Researchers Chuanhai Cao and Gary Arendash at the University of South Florida have shown that caffeinated coffee increases blood levels of the growth factor granulocyte colony stimulating factor (GCSF), which seems to fight off the Alzheimer’s disease process and improve memory in mice. Findings of the study will appear online in the June 28, 2011 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Read more at University of South Florida Health

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