Mystery Coffee Ingredient and Caffeine Interact to Offer Protection from Alzheimer’s Disease

An as-of-yet unknown component of coffee appears to interact with the drink’s caffeine to protect against Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study.

University of South Florida researchers observed that the interaction of the unidentified component and the caffeine boosted blood levels of a critical growth factor that fights off the development of Alzheimer’s and can actually improve memory in Alzheimer’s mice.

The growth factor works by recruiting stem cells from bone marrow to enter the brain and remove a harmful beta-amyloid protein that initiates the disease. It also creates new connections between brain cells and increases the birth of new neurons in the brain.

Neither caffeine alone or decaffeinated coffee appears to have the same protective effects.

The researchers conducted the study in mice that were bred to develop symptoms mimicking Alzheimer’s, but report they have additional evidence that similar effects can be seen in humans.

Coffee is safe for most Americans to consume in the moderate amounts (4 to 5 cups a day) that appear necessary to protect against Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers said. However, the average American drinks 1½ to 2 cups of coffee a day, which considerably less than the amount they believe is needed to counteract Alzheimer’s development.

They recommended middle age (around 30 years old) as the optimal time to begin drinking coffee, but said starting even in older age still appears protective.

“We are not saying that daily moderate coffee consumption will completely protect people from getting Alzheimer’s disease,” said USF neuroscientist Dr. Chuanhai Cao, lead author of the study. “However, we do believe that moderate coffee consumption can appreciably reduce your risk of this dreaded disease or delay its onset.”

Additional studies have indicated that the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties of coffee may also decrease the risk of several other diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, Type II diabetes and stroke as well as breast and prostate cancers.

The study has been published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.