Coffee And Women’s Memory Loss

If you’re a woman, there’s one more good reason to enjoy your coffee. A 2007 study published in the August 7, 2007 issue of American Academy of Neurology found that women 65 years old and up who drank more than three cups of coffee daily showed less decline in memory than those who drank one cup or less of coffee daily. The effects were the same for women who drank the equivalent in tea. The study was authored by Karen Ritchie of the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Montpelier, France and involved 7,000 people whose caffeine intake and cognitive abilities were evaluated over the course of four years. Researchers adjusted for factors other than caffeine consumption, including age, education, disability, depression, medication and many chronic illnesses that might affect memory. The conclusion held up – drinking three cups of coffee or more appeared to prevent cognitive decline in women over age 65.

Ritchie cautioned that we don’t have a good understanding of how caffeine affects the brain, so it’s too soon to start promoting coffee and caffeine intake as a way to stay smarter longer.

“But,” she says, “the results are interesting — caffeine use is already widespread and it has fewer side effects than other treatments for cognitive decline, and it requires a relatively small amount for a beneficial effect.”

Specifically, the coffee drinkers in the study who drank more than three cups of coffee a day showed less decline in memory than women who drank less than one cup of coffee a day. Even better, the benefits seem to increase with age: at 65, the coffee drinkers were 30% less likely to have memory decline. By age 80, women who drink three or more cups of coffee a day have a 70% less risk of memory loss.

The protection against memory loss doesn’t seem to extend to risk of dementia. The study author said that a longer study is needed to look at how caffeine affects dementia. It may be that caffeine slows dementia rather than preventing it.

It’s an interesting point that caffeine didn’t have the same effect on men as it did on women. Researchers aren’t sure why. Ritchie said that it may be a matter of women being more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than men. They may metabolize caffeine differently or their bodies may react differently.

It’s not the first study that has pointed to a difference in the effects of caffeine and coffee on men and women. A study by researchers at the University of Minnesota found that women past menopause who reported drinking 1 to 3 cups of coffee a day have a 24% lower risk of heart disease and a 28% lower risk of dying of other non-cancerous inflammatory diseases. Other studies that included men did not show the same results. In those studies, caffeine and coffee consumption shows no relationship to heart disease at all.