Though coffee often gets a bad rap in the health press, the fact is that it’s not nearly the health risk it’s often made out to be.
There are actually many positive things you can say about coffee, including the fact that it contains many of the same health-giving chemicals as cocoa. Coffee is high in anti-inflammatory compounds that also may provide protective benefits. It’s also the number one source of antioxidants in the typical American diet.
Among other things, coffee has been shown to protect against diabetes(1), gout (2), and Parkinson’s Disease(3). And now a new study adds to coffee’s rapidly building resume of benefits: it protects against Alzheimer’s. Just within the last few months, new studies have reported that drinking coffee in moderation may also significantly reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancers.
The latest research- from the University of South Florida- shows that an as yet unidentified component in coffee interacts with the caffeine in the beverage, and that when this happens, it boosts blood levels of a critical growth factor called GCSF (granulocyte colony stimulating factor) GCSF is a substance greatly decreased in patients with Alzheimer's disease and demonstrated to improve memory in Alzheimer's mice. Higher blood GCSF levels due to coffee intake were associated with better memory.
Using mice bred to develop symptoms mimicking Alzheimer's disease, the researchers presented the first evidence that caffeinated coffee offers protection against the memory-robbing disease.
It’s clearly not the caffeine alone that’s responsible for the effect, since the effect isn’t seen with other caffeine- containing drinks, such as carbonated drinks, energy drinks, and tea. Yet the Alzheimer’s protecting effect isn’t seen with decaf, so clearly the caffeine is critical. Obviously it’s something bout the interaction of the caffeine with this as-yet-unidentified component in coffee that produces the benefits.
Previous studies in humans have also found that daily coffee/caffeine intake during mid-life and in older age decreases the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
"Caffeinated coffee provides a natural increase in blood GCSF levels," said USF neuroscientist Dr. Chuanhai Cao, lead author of the study.(4) "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."
Coffee is safe for most Americans to consume in the moderate amounts (4 to 5 cups a day) that appear necessary to protect against Alzheimer's disease.
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 even in older age appears protective from their studies.
"We are not saying that daily moderate coffee consumption will completely protect people from getting Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Cao said. "However, we do believe that moderate coffee consumption can appreciably reduce your risk of this dreaded disease or delay its onset."
"Now is the time to aggressively pursue the protective benefits of coffee against Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Arendash said. "Hopefully, the coffee industry will soon become an active partner with Alzheimer's researchers to find the protective ingredient in coffee and concentrate it in dietary sources."
"Aside from coffee, two other lifestyle choices - physical and cognitive activity - appear to reduce the risk of dementia. Combining regular physical and mental exercise with moderate coffee consumption would seem to be an excellent multi-faceted approach to reducing risk or delaying Alzheimer's," Dr. Arendash said.
"With pharmaceutical companies spending millions of dollars trying to develop drugs against Alzheimer's disease, there may very well be an effective preventive right under our noses every morning - caffeinated coffee."