Drinking coffee reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s, according to new research.
People who downed two cups a day slowed their rate of cognitive decline as they aged, the study found.
With no cure in sight, there is increasing focus on protective lifestyle factors.
Lead author Dr Samantha Gardener, of Edith Cowan University, Perth, said: ‘It is a simple thing that people can change.
‘It could be particularly useful for people who are at risk of cognitive decline but have not developed any symptoms.
‘We might be able to develop some clear guidelines people can follow in middle age and hopefully it could then have a lasting effect.’
Her team found regular consumption improved brainpower among 200 over 60s in Australia who were tracked for a decade.
Scans showed the beverage boosted particular areas of grey matter – specifically those related to executive function.
The set of mental skills include working memory, flexible thinking and self-control.
We use them every day to learn, work and manage daily life. In dementia, they are seriously impacted – especially as the condition progresses.
The results identified an association between coffee and several important markers related to Alzheimer’s.
Dr Gardener said: ‘We found participants with no memory impairments and with higher coffee consumption at the start of the study had lower risk of transitioning to mild cognitive impairment – which often precedes Alzheimer’s – or developing the disease over the course of the study.’
The beverage was also linked to slowing accumulation of amyloid beta – toxic proteins that clump in plaques, killing neurons.
Dr Gardener described the findings as ‘encouraging’, suggesting coffee is an easy way to stave off the devastating neurological condition.
The number of cases worldwide are set to triple in the next 30 years due to ageing populations.
If you only allow yourself one cup a day, the study indicates you might be better off treating yourself to another.
Dr Gardener said: ‘If the average cup of coffee made at home is 240g, increasing to two cups a day could potentially lower cognitive decline by eight per cent after 18 months.
‘It could also see a five per cent decrease in amyloid accumulation over the same time period.’
The study adds to evidence coffee is good for the brain. It is rich in caffeine and plant chemicals called flavonoids that increase blood flow.
But a maximum number of daily cups that provided a beneficial effect could not be established.
The analysis was also unable to differentiate between caffeinated and de-caffeinated coffee, brewing methods and the presence of milk or sugar.
Dr Gardener said the relationship between coffee and brain function was worth pursuing.
She added: ‘We need to evaluate whether coffee intake could one day be recommended as a lifestyle factor aimed at delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s.’
Scientists are yet to determine precisely which constituents of coffee are behind its seemingly positive effects on brain health.
Caffeine, a natural compound that stimulates the brain and nervous system, is suspected of being the main contributor.
But preliminary research has found ‘crude caffeine’, a by-product of de-caffeinating coffee, decreases memory impairment in mice.
Other components such as cafestol, kahweol and EHT (Eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide) have also been implicated in animal experiments.
Coffee is Britain’s second most popular drink with 95 million cups consumed a day – just behind tea.
Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect 920,000 people in the UK – a figure that will rise to two million by 2050.
The study is published in Frontiers of Ageing Neuroscience.
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