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This claim was made at the recent Alzheimer’s Europe conference by the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee, a not-for-profit organisation funded in part by commercial coffee companies and devoted to the study and disclosure of science related to coffee and health.
The report entitled ‘Good things in life: can coffee consumption reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease?’ summarises the findings from scientific literature looking at the latest evidence in relation to coffee and dementia risk. The report concludes that:
“Epidemiological studies have suggested that there may be an association between moderate coffee consumption and a reduced risk of developed Alzheimer’s, however further research is required to fully understand the nature of this relationship.”
How might coffee lower dementia risk?
Coffee contains two key compounds which have been shown to have positive effects on brain health – caffeine and polyphenols. Both of these have had proven effects in reducing brain inflammation and the aggregation of toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. However these effects have only be seen in animal studies or in human clinical trials where participants are specifically given supplements containing high doses of these compounds (and not coffee specifically).
At the beginning of the year Dementia News featured a study (read about it here) showing that regular caffeine consumption could improve memory. However, participants in this study were given a caffeine tablet and were asked not to drink espressos or cappuccinos. So once again, the evidence is pointing towards the compounds in coffee rather than the coffee itself.
However, this new report does reference some large European studies which have found that coffee consumption was associated with a reduction in cognitive decline (not dementia onset) in healthy older men. It also refers to a recently published paper in the European Journal of Epidemiology which followed the coffee habits of approximately 5,000 participants over a 10 year follow up period. This is one of the largest long term studies on the direct effects of coffee drinking on cognition, and it concludes that:
“…using coffee assessment of the same persons at two time points, we found no protective association between coffee consumption and the risk of dementia during the entire follow-up period.”
What the study did find however is that people who drank more than 3 cups of coffee per day during the full 10 year follow-up period showed a statistically significantly reduction in risk of incident dementia (i.e. new cases of dementia) compared to participants who reduced their intake from 3 cups of coffee during the same time period. However, when the researchers looked at coffee consumption as a whole, this same protective effect was not seen.
So the claim that moderate coffee consumption MAY lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by up to 20 percent is largely based on the results from this single study, and appears likely only to apply to those who have relatively high consumption over a long period of time.
And while consumption of coffee itself is unlikely to do harm, it is important to note that there is also a growing body of evidence showing the risks of dementia associated with high sugar intake, and lack of sleep. So if you take your multiple daily cups of coffee with sugar, or if you rely on the caffeine hit to compensate for a lack of good sleep, then it is possible that any possible benefits of coffee are likely to be well and truly outweighed by the known risks.
Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee - http://coffeeandhealth.org/2014/11/moderate-coffee-consumption-may-lower...
European Journal of Epidemiology - http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10654-014-9943-y
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