July 6, 2009
If you happen to be a heavy coffee drinker, you might be helping your brain protect itself from Alzheimers disease.
While a number of advanced Alzheimers drugs and treatments have been developed in recent years, University of Florida researcher Gary Arendash believes coffee drinkers -- and other caffeine consumers -- are not just protecting themselves, but actually treating symptoms that might appear.
The study gives evidence that caffeine may be a viable treatment for established Alzheimers disease and not simply a protective strategy, Arendash said.
Human subjects were not used in the study, only mice. But Arendash and his colleagues believe the findings offer up a lot of hope. Using mice that were bred to develop Alzheimers, the fed half of the laboratory animals a heavy diet of caffeine once they saw signs of the disease.
In other words, they waited until after the mice had developed Alzheimers disease before beginning the treatment.
Arendash said the research team was surprised at the results. The mice fed the caffeine performed much better on memory tests than those that didnt receive the caffeine.
Alzheimers currently is an incurable, progressively fatal disease that affects humans as they age, robbing them of all memory functions. The researchers say the fact that they have been able to reverse the diseases effects on cognitive ability is particularly significant.
Recent research into Alzheimers treatment has focused on the clumps that form in the brains of Alzheimers patients, interrupting normal memory function. The clumps are sometimes caused by two enzymes and heavy doses of caffeine, it appears, prevents those enzymes from forming.
Researchers say they are eager to launch clinical trials with human subjects, believing they are close to ending a scourge of aging. They say caffeine is safe for most people and easily absorbed by the brain, and appears to directly attack the disease.
More than five million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimers disease, according to the Alzheimers Association. Alzheimers and dementia triple the health care costs for people age 65 and older.