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Alzheimer’s disease is devastating, not only to those who suffer from it but also to their family members and to society as a whole. Over the past few years, research being conducted around the world has seemed to suggest that caffeine might help offset one of Alzheimer’s most devastating symptoms – memory loss. Several studies reported in the past few years have strongly suggested that both women and men who drink coffee regularly throughout their lives are less likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease from those who don’t drink caffeinated beverages. Now, a study released by the Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center suggests that caffeine may do more than protect the brain from memory loss – it may actually help reverse damage that is already done.
The study was done using mice that had been specially bred to develop symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. These mice are commonly used in preliminary Alzheimer’s research. The mice in the study were taught to perform specific tasks while they were young, and tested periodically. Once they started exhibiting the symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease, the mice were divided into two groups. The first group continued to receive their usual diet. The second group were given water that had been spiked with caffeine – about the same amount of caffeine proportionally that a human would get if they consumed 5-6 cups of caffeinated coffee daily.
The caffeinated mice were tested for tasks related to short term memory alongside the mice who were not receiving caffeine and a third group of mice who did not have the gene to develop Alzheimer’s disease. At the end of two months, the mice who were getting caffeine had not only stopped losing their memory, they had recovered their earlier memory losses and were performing as well as the mice who did not have Alzheimer’s disease.
Just to cover all the bases, the researchers also tested non-Alzheimer’s mice to see if drinking caffeine regularly would increase their short term memory functioning over time. They concluded that it did not, so the effects of caffeine on the short term memory of mice with Alzheimer’s was most likely due to reversing the damage done by Alzheimer’s, not due to an overall increase in short term brain function.
Autopsies on the mice also showed that the mice who had been given caffeine showed significantly less plaque deposits in the brain than those who had been drinking plain water. This plaque is also commonly found in the brains of humans who have Alzheimer’s disease, and is believed to be the cause of many of the behavior changes that Alzheimer’s patients show.
While the studies with mice are very suggestive, they still have to be confirmed with similar studies using humans. Researchers at the Florida Alzheimer’s Research Center are working on developing those studies.