It would be a vast understatement to say that coffee is popular. It is consumed in unfathomable amounts on a daily basis across the world. Accordingly, the impact of coffee on human health is a popular topic among medical researchers, including those who study dementia. Their efforts have revealed that drinking coffee may help to prevent Alzheimer’s disorder, though it also appears to be linked with a worsening of behavioral symptoms in people who already have the disease.
Can Drinking Coffee Prevent Alzheimer’s?
Some of the chemicals in coffee may be able to protect brain cells (neurons) from damage. This characteristic is called neuroprotection, and it helps to defend against the development of degenerative neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s.
Studies show that caffeine has neuroprotective properties, as do other chemicals in coffee, like quercetin. Researchers are still trying to pinpoint the exact ways in which these substances protect neurons. There are at least two prime candidates:
1. Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Inflammation is a term used to describe the response of body tissues to activities of the immune system. It typically results in redness, heat, pain, and swelling in the affected area(s). Being a vital part of any human body, the brain can also become inflamed.
The inflammatory response of brain tissues is referred to as neuroinflammation, and it is suspected of being a factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. It is thus far difficult to say whether neuroinflammation is a cause or symptom (or both), but we do know that some Alzheimer’s symptoms can be eased by reducing inflammation in the brain.
2. Antioxidant Effects
A free radical is a chemical substance that is highly reactive because it has an unpaired electron. When it comes to human health, the most dangerous type of free radical is an oxidizing agent (also known as an oxidant). These substances are found both in the environment and as a result of normal biochemical processes within the human body.
Antioxidants help to neutralize and eliminate oxidizing agents in the body before they can cause damage by reacting with an important part of the body.
Drinking coffee may indeed have benefits when it comes to protecting the brain from Alzheimer’s disease, but it would be a leap to suggest that it can prevent the disorder from developing with certainty. Anyone who suspects they might be prone to developing Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia (even heavy coffee drinkers) should use a self-assessment tool like the BrainTest® app and seek a professional evaluation.
The Effect of Coffee on Existing Alzheimer’s Symptoms
In addition to its neuroprotective potential, researchers are motivated to study to the effect of coffee on Alzheimer’s symptoms because caffeine has long been suspected of providing both cognitive and physical benefits in general. However, a new investigation has found that prolonged exposure to caffeine may actually worsen some behavioral symptoms in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers studied mice that had a condition resembling Alzheimer’s disease (also known as an “animal model”) and found increased signs of anxiety in those who were given a low dose of caffeine on a long-term basis. Overall, behavioral and psychological symptoms were significantly worse after the exposure, though not to the same degree as anxiousness. Future studies on humans will be needed before this effect can be confirmed as a serious threat, but it certainly gives us good reason to investigate further.