Coffee consumption and neurodegenerative disorders

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Coffee and Health houses current scientific information on a wide range of coffee-related topics. This blog post focuses on the topic of coffee consumption and neurodegenerative disorders. As there is a wealth of information on this topic we have split it into its component parts, with this post focusing primarily on research into coffee consumption and Alzheimer’s disease.

Neurodegenerative disorders in Europe

The scale of the issue

Cognitive functions stay relatively stable until 60 years and tend to slow thereafter, particularly between 60 and 80. Some evidence suggests brain function can start to deteriorate as early as 45. Older adults are also susceptible to developing neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, for which there is presently no treatment.

A role for coffee and caffeine

Caffeine is known to stimulate human cognitive function, with positive effects on alertness, concentration, learning, memory and mood. Caffeine also stimulates motor activity in animals and humans. Because of this, caffeine is considered a likely candidate for delaying and/or preventing physiological, age-related cognitive decline as well as a number of neurodegenerative disorders and stroke.

Coffee and Alzheimer’s disease

An estimated 50-70 per cent of people with dementia suffer from Alzheimer’s disease (AD). In addition, about one person in twenty over the age of 65 suffers from AD, versus less than one person in 1000 under the age of 65. By 2025, the percentage of people in the EU aged 65+ is predicted to rise from 15.4% of the population to 22.4%, which is likely to be associated with an increase in AD.

AD is a neurodegenerative disease leading to progressive cognitive decline and the accumulation in the brain of β-amyloïd peptide (A β), a chain of 36-43 amino acids, most commonly known in association with AD.

There are an increasing number of scientific studies which suggest a defensive role for caffeine and anti-oxidants in the development of AD.

Coffee and caffeine linked to lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease

The majority of studies in humans suggest regular coffee/caffeine consumption over a lifetime reduces the risk of developing AD, particularly in the elderly. Coffee/caffeine appears to be notably beneficial before the onset of the disease.

A meta-analysis looking at the effects of coffee/caffeine on AD, found an apparent protecting effect of coffee consumption. However, there was a large heterogeneity across the studies. Another more recent meta-analysis also found that coffee/caffeine intake was linked to a 17-20% lower risk of AD.

A number of studies, following subjects for a number of years, confirm the relationship between caffeine consumption over time and a reduced risk of developing AD. One in particular found that coffee consumption at midlife reduced the risk of AD and dementia in the elderly, with the lowest risk in people who drank 3–5 cups a day. However, a few recent studies found no link between coffee consumption and either cognitive impairment or dementia.

Possible mechanisms of action

A number of animal studies point to potential mechanisms of action behind coffee/caffeine’s effects on AD risk. Antioxidants in coffee and/or anti-inflammatory agents also seem to have neuroprotective properties. Further research is needed to fully understand these mechanisms.

For more information on coffee and neurodegenerative disorders/Alzheimer’s disease, and to view information sources, click here.


Also, to see Dr Astrid Nehlig, Research Director from the French National Medical Research Institute (INSERM), discuss the latest research on the relationship between coffee drinking and neurodegenerative disorders with Dr Sarah Schenker, Registered Dietitian, view our vodcast here.

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