Why drinking coffee could lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Good news, coffee lovers.

Your daily grind could be lowering your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a new study has found.

Researchers from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia investigated whether higher coffee consumption affects our rate of cognitive decline.

The study found an association between coffee and several markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Lead investigator Dr Samantha Gardener told The New Daily the research focused on coffee because it is one of the world’s most popular beverages.

She said as there is currently no effective treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, researchers are looking for behaviours or habits that could help delay its onset.

In this case, changing the dosages of foods and beverages that were already being consumed.

“Even a five-year delay in the onset of Alzheimer’s would have such a massive effect socially and economically,” Dr Gardener said.

“And these are normally a lot less expensive than medications, [and] more accessible for everyone.

“It’s easy to increase coffee from one cup to two cups a day.”

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia, affecting up to 70 per cent of people who have dementia, according to Dementia Australia.

Its symptoms include forgetting people or places, losing social skills, and having unpredictable emotions.

  • Click here for more information about Alzheimer’s disease

The study, published in Frontiers of Ageing Neuroscience, observed more than 200 Australians over a period of more than 10 years.

“We found participants with no memory impairments and with higher coffee consumption at the start of the study had lower risk of transitioning to mild cognitive impairment – which often precedes Alzheimer’s disease – or developing Alzheimer’s disease over the course of the study,” Dr Gardener said.

She said coffee seemed to have a positive effect on brain functions such as planning, self-control and attention.

And the accumulation of amyloid protein in the brain, which is a key factor in developing Alzheimer’s, also appeared to slow down with higher coffee intake.

Dr Gardener said more studies were needed to prove coffee intake was the sole reason behind the promising results, but noted the findings indicated coffee could be a simple way to delay the disease.

“It’s a simple thing that people can change,” she said.

“It could be particularly useful for people who are at risk of cognitive decline but haven’t developed any symptoms.

“We might be able to develop some clear guidelines people can follow in middle age and hopefully it could then have a lasting effect.”

The study did not differentiate between caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee and how the drink was prepared, but Dr Gardener said these things “definitely need to be included in future research”.

This study was conducted as part of the Australian Imaging, Biomarkers and Lifestyle Study of ageing.

All of the participants were aged 60 years or older, and most were highly educated and caucasian.

Dr Gardener said studying different cohorts would also be a focus in the future.

Other things to consider

The study suggested those who limit themselves to one cup of coffee per day should make it a double shot.

Accredited practising dietitian and Dietitians Australia spokesperson Jane Freeman told The New Daily many people think coffee is unhealthy when it’s not.

Ms Freeman said coffee (and tea) are a good source of antioxidants, which are protective and help reduce the risk of other chronic illnesses.

Coffee with milk is also a good opportunity to help fulfil your daily calcium intake, she said.

(For those who do not drink dairy, Ms Freeman recommends checking the ingredients of your milk alternative as some are not fortified with calcium.)

But keep in mind that coffee is a stimulant, and everyone has a different tolerance.

“Some people will get a little bit jittery or really anxious if they have too much – and it does also affect sleep,” said Ms Freeman, adding that drinking caffeine after lunchtime was inadvisable.

“Even if you are not that sensitive, drinking coffee at night can still compromise the quality of sleep that you might have, and [too much] affects your gut as well.”

Two cups of coffee, or 240 milligrams of caffeine, each day is a reasonable guide, she said.

More research will be needed before doctors can prescribe higher coffee intake to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

“The next stage would ideally be intervention studies, where you tell people to drink this amount of coffee specifically, and then look at the effects,” Dr Gardener said.

“It’s not going to be one prescription for everyone. This needs to be personalised.”

An observational study can establish a link between two things, in this case coffee consumption and cognitive decline, but cannot prove that one thing causes another.

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