Study Indicates Coffee Consumption May Reduce Risk of Dementia

The recent Women's Health Initiative Memory Study (“Relationships Between Caffeine Intake and Risk for Probable Dementia or Global Cognitive Impairment”), funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, brings new evidence of possible significant health benefits of drinking coffee. The study analyzed the coffee, tea and cola consumption of 6,467 women aged 65 and older over a ten-year span of follow-up evaluations that included annual cognitive assessments, The assessments were used to pinpoint the possible development of dementia, which the study reported was found in 388 of the subjects.

But, the study’s findings indicated that women who consumed more than 261 milligrams of caffeine, the equivalent of two to three eight-ounce cups of coffee daily, had a 36% lower risk of a diagnosis of probable dementia or cognitive impairment than did women who consumed a low amount of caffeine, defined in the study as less than 64 milligrams, or no more than one-half to one cup of coffee per day.

The study accounted for numerous other possible confounding factors including age, race, body mass index, smoking status, alcohol intake, depression, high blood pressure, sleep quality, and history of cardiovascular disease.

The authors of the study do, however, say that their results cannot yet establish a direct association between caffeine
     intake and reduced dementia risk, but that additional studies are needed to verify the consistency of their reports and to better understand the underlying mechanisms and their involvement in dementia and cognitive impairment.

The Adenosine A2A receptor plays important roles in the regulation of glutamate and dopamine release in the brain, and its breakdown and aberrant function with aging and age-related pathology is found in the onset of dementia. Ongoing studies are exploring the effects of reversing cognitive impairment in Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative
disorders by blocking these receptors, and the study’s lead author, Ira Driscoll, Ph.D.,Professor of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, has stated that the potential protective effect of caffeine is thought to occur primarily through the blockade of adenosine A2A receptors.

While this study is promising, and while there is increasing evidence of a protective effect of caffeine and other bioactive components of coffee on cognition from studies of non-human subjects, it is far too early to make a definitive statement that coffee consumption will stave off the development of dementia, but how can it hurt to enjoy those three or so cups of coffee a day?