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July 6, 2009

Coffee May Reverse Signs Of Alzheimer’s Disease

U.S. scientists say that drinking five cups of coffee a day could reverse memory problems seen in Alzheimer's disease, BBC News reported.

Researchers also suggested that caffeine hampered the production of the protein plaques which are the hallmark of the disease, while studies in the past suggested a protective effect from caffeine.

However, the study, which appears in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, does not conclude that dementia patients should start using caffeine supplements.

A team at the University of Florida used 55 mice that had been bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

They first used behavioral tests to confirm the mice were showing signs of memory impairment at 18 to 19 months, the equivalent to humans being about 70. Then half the mice were given caffeine in their drinking water, while the rest were given plain water.

The mice were then given the equivalent of five 8 oz cups of coffee a day, or about 500 milligrams of caffeine"”the same found in two cups of "specialty" coffees such as lattes or cappuccinos, 14 cups of tea, or 20 soft drinks.

After two months, those mice that were given the caffeine performed much better on tests measuring their memory and thinking skills and they performed as well as mice of the same age that did not show signs of dementia. The mice drinking plain water continued to do poorly on the tests.

The researcher also noted that the brains of the mice given caffeine showed nearly a 50 percent reduction in levels of the beta amyloid protein"”which forms destructive clumps in the brains of dementia patients.

Caffeine used in following tests was thought to affect the production of both the enzymes needed to produce beta amyloid. They also suggested that caffeine likely suppresses inflammatory changes in the brain that lead to an overabundance of the protein.

Previous studies carried out by the same team showed younger mice that had also been bred to develop Alzheimer's but were given caffeine in their early adulthood were protected against the onset of memory related issues.

"The results are particularly exciting in that a reversal of pre-existing memory impairment is more difficult to achieve. They provide evidence that caffeine could be a viable 'treatment' for established Alzheimer's disease and not simply a protective strategy," said Dr. Gary Arendash, who led the latest study.

He said the study is important because caffeine is a safe drug for most people that easily enters the brain and appears to directly affect the process of the disease.

Human trials of caffeine are set to begin to see if the mouse findings are replicated in humans.

While it is unclear whether a lower amount of caffeine would be as effective, researchers say most people could safely consume the 500 milligrams per day.

But people with high blood pressure, and pregnant women, should limit their daily caffeine intake, the authors said.

"In this study on mice with symptoms of Alzheimer's, researchers found that caffeine boosted their memory. We need to do more research to find out whether this effect will be seen in people," said Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Research Trust.

She said it was too early to tell whether drinking coffee or taking caffeine supplements would help people with Alzheimer's.

But previous research into caffeine had suggested it could delay Alzheimer's disease and even protect against vascular dementia, according to Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society.

Hunt said the research in mice suggests that coffee may actually reverse some element of memory impairment, but much more research is needed to determine whether drinking coffee has the same impact in people.

"It is too soon to say whether a cup of coffee is anything more than a pleasant pick me up," he concluded.

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