Coffee May Prevent Dementia

4 Feb 2013

A molecule many of us ingest daily may help maintain the health of our brains. The chemical structure is that of caffeine. Several recent studies (see references below) all show the same trend. These reports consistently demonstrate an inverse relationship between increasing coffee consumption and the development of dementia.

One of challenges when looking at association data like is to know whether there is actually a cause and effect rather than an association. An association could be two unrelated events occurring at the same time in the same group of people that does not have any true connection, yet are associated because someone makes the observation. An example is that rising unemployment in America is associated with increasing use of Facebook. Yet, one did not necessarily cause the other.

When looking at population association data it is hard to know whether the coffee, caffeine, the behavior of coffee drinkers in general, or some other unidentified factor is the cause of the association. One thing is clear, however, and that is that several studies all show the same message. The more coffee you drink in middle age, the less likely you will develop dementia.

One study did not note the same protective affect from tea consumption that was noted in their coffee drinkers. The stimulants found in tea are a mixture of caffeine and theobromine while coffee contains caffeine. These compounds are from the same chemical family known as methylxanthines. Whether caffeine, coffee in general, or some other chemicals such as anti-oxidants reduce the development of dementia is yet to be determined. Perhaps it is due to the lifestyle of coffee drinkers, effects of coffee on insulin sensitivity (as postulated in some reports) or some other as yet unknown reason.

Regardless, the data from several studies all show the same trend; those of us who consume a few cups of coffee on a daily basis may be around remembering that consumption better than those who don’t in the decades to come. It will be very interesting to see where this line of research takes us in the next few years.

References:
Journal of Alzheimers Disease Jan 2010. 20:S167-174.
Journal of Alzheimers Disease Jan 2011. 23:607-615.
American Journal of Epidemiology Sep 2002. 156:445-153.
Journal of Alzheimers Disease Jan 2010. 20:S175-185.
Geriatrics and Gerontology International Jul 2012. 12:568-570.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Sep 2009. 90:640-646.