BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Many American consumers are worried about the amount of coffee they drink. Some are even trying to beat the habit altogether. But a growing number of studies suggest that a morning “cup of Joe” has a positive affect on cognition as well as short- and long-term memory.
One study conducted by researchers at Indiana University in Bloomington reveals that caffeine is among some 24 compounds that could delay the onset of dementia, which afflicts millions of Americans annually. The two dozen compounds tested were found to enhance production of a brain enzyme known as NMNAT2. This enzyme resists dementia and other degenerative brain illnesses like Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
Several other compounds appear to have the same NMNAT2-boosting potential as caffeine, the Bloomington team, led by Prof. Hui-Chen Lu, reveals. They include rolipram, which medical researchers briefly considered for use as an anti-depressant in the mid-1990s.
But of the 24 compounds tested, caffeine’s impact on dementia was potentially the strongest, her team discovered.
Lu’s study did not involve human test subjects. Her team artificially reduced levels of NMNAT2 in laboratory mice and then injected them with caffeine. The mice quickly rebounded to normal levels of the enzyme. An earlier Lu study, conducted last year, was the first to identify NMNAT2’s dementia-resisting properties.
“Increasing our knowledge about the pathways in the brain that appear to naturally cause the decline of this necessary protein is equally as important as identifying compounds that could play a role in future treatment of these debilitating mental disorders,” Dr. Lu notes in an IU news release.
Because of the increasing number of people age 65 and older in the United States, the incidence of dementia is rising rapidly. Alzheimer’s is the most common form of the illness, accounting for 40% to 60% of all dementia cases. Cases around the world are expected to triple by 2050.
Lu’s study did not address the potential downsides of coffee drinking, especially when consumed at high levels. Various acids in coffee can lead to insomnia, esophageal reflux, increased stress and ulcers, and can weaken your auto-immune system, studies show. And caffeine — not just in coffee or tea, but increasingly in energy drinks and even chewing gum — is addictive: more than 30% of the US.. population may be “hooked” on caffeine.
Lu’s research was jointly funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the Belfer Family Foundation. The results appeared in the March 2017 issue of Scientific Reports.
This article was first published on March 15, 2017.