Does Coffee Protect Against Alzheimer’s Disease?

From a report in the Journal of Neuroinflammation:
Scientists believe that a daily dose of caffeine – the equivalent of a cup of coffee for a medium-sized person – blocks the disruptive effects of high cholesterol that has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers at the University of North Dakota’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences fed rabbits a high cholesterol diet, and gave them a 3 mg dose of caffeine each day. Their intent was to study the effect of caffeine on the blood brain barrier, a filter of sorts that protects the central nervous system from the circulation in the rest of the body. When the blood brain barrier – the BBB for short – is intact, it provides the brain with its own little micro-environment, keeping out many of the contaminants that are found in the blood stream. When it fails and allows those contaminants through, the brain is prone to damage caused by blood borne contamination. This happens in many neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease.

There have been earlier studies that showed that high cholesterol levels break down the BBB, letting pathogens through and increasing the risk of damage to the brain.

The researchers divided the rabbits into two groups. One group received a daily dose of caffeine. The other group did not. At the end of twelve weeks, the BBB in the caffeinated rabbits was significantly more intact in rabbits who received a daily dose of caffeine.

Jonathan Geiger, one of the researchers involved, said that caffeine appears to block several of the effects of cholesterol that make the blood brain barrier ‘leaky’. Caffeine appears to help by maintaining the production of certain proteins that help bind the cells of the BBB together tightly.

The study seems to confirm results from other studies that show caffeine intake protects against memory loss in Alzheimer’s and aging.

Geiger said that caffeine is “a safe and readily available drug” and that it’s ability to stabilize and protect the blood brain barrier means it could have an important therapeutic role against neurological disorders.