Coffee drinkers stunned as new study suggests caffeine consumption worsens Alzheimer’s symptoms. Now what?

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The News:

Long-term consumption of caffeine would worsen the neuropsychiatric symptoms of people with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study on mice, published in Frontiers in Pharmacology.

So far, many studies have advocated for the consumption of coffee and therefore caffeine to prevent dementia symptoms, both in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and in normal aging processes.

However, these new studies suggest that once the cognitive and neuropsychiatric symptoms of the disease have been developed, consuming caffeine would aggravate them, according to Alzheimer’s News Today.

Alzheimer’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that leads to the gradual and irreversible loss of mental functions, especially memory. The majority of people affected also have neuropsychiatric symptoms such as dementia, anxiety, apathy, depression, hallucinations or paranoia.

Although these symptoms manifest themselves differently in different patients, they are often a source of distress for patients, but also for their relatives and caregivers.

These are precisely the symptoms that interested the researchers. They performed their tests on aged mice, some of which had disorders similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Mice develop Alzheimer’s disease very similarly to that of human patients with an early form of the disease, with not only typical cognitive problems, but also a number of symptoms similar to the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia, which makes them a valuable model to check whether the benefits of caffeine will be able to offset its possible negative effects,” says Prof. Raquel Baeta-Corral, lead author of the study.

The researchers subjected the mice to a long oral treatment with a very low dose of caffeine (0.3 mg / mL), the equivalent of three cups of coffee for a human. The results they obtained indicate that caffeine modifies the behavior of healthy mice and aggravates the neuropsychiatric symptoms of those affected by Alzheimer’s disease.

The latter group were particularly prone to neophobia, the fear of all that is new. They also exhibited new anxiety-related activities, intensifying the customary behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia. Learning and memory did not seem to have benefited from the effects of caffeine.

“Our observations of the adverse effects of caffeine in a model of Alzheimer’s disease as well as in previous clinical observations, suggest that an exacerbation of BPSD*-like symptoms may partially interfere with the beneficial cognitive effects of caffeine,” explains Lydia Giménez-Llort, researcher in the Department of Psychiatry and Forensic Medicine of INc-UAB and principal researcher of the project.

(*BPSD stands for Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia.)

Steve’s Take:

One of the trademarks of famous mystery/crime writer Jeffery Deaver is that, as a reader, just when you’re convinced you’ve got your head wrapped around the plot and are about to reach the final scene, oops. Wrong. Then, wrong again; and again. A sort of “reader’s whiplash.” You get the point.

That’s how I felt while reading the above news account on caffeine from European researchers.

So, this largely unheralded study from Spain and Sweden says, in effect, keep drinking coffee with caffeine to prevent Alzheimer’s, but not if you already have the disease. Why? Because the caffeine will aggravate your condition.

But realistically, how are you going to remember to stop drinking your beloved beverage when you’re in the throes of the terrifying behavioral and neurological symptoms that appear and intensify as AD progresses?

It strikes me that the significance of a study like this latest one from Europe doesn’t get the attention it deserves, especially since Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth leading cause of death among people 65 years of age and older.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 1999 and 2014, Alzheimer’s disease death rates increased by 55%–and such death rates are climbing. With the size of the 65-and-older demographic mushrooming in the overall population, that suggests millions of people with AD will be better off (so to speak) giving up caffeinated coffee.

Steve's Take: #Alzheimers patients should reduce their #caffeine intake and increase their #resveratrol intake Click To Tweet

But that’s so much easier said than done. My take? Switch to resveratrol. What is it?

Resveratrol is a compound that occurs naturally in certain foods, including the skin of grapes and red wine. It is also found in grape juice, peanuts, cocoa, and berries such as blueberries and cranberries.

More to the point of this piece, researchers’ interest in resveratrol was sparked when studies in the 1990s found health benefits to drinking moderate amounts of red wine, including the possibility of a lower risk of dementia. Ongoing clinical studies into its possible benefits in Alzheimer’s patients, however, is limited, says Alzheimer’s News Today.

How resveratrol works.

Scientists are still trying to understand how resveratrol works in the body, and whether it might help prevent or treat Alzheimer’s disease. In some preclinical studies, resveratrol decreased the amount of beta-amyloid protein in cells grown in laboratories and in the brains of mice by promoting the breakdown of the protein. Beta-amyloid forms the plaques that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

Another theory is that resveratrol mimics the effect of restricting calorie intake. A low-calorie diet has been found in animal studies to prevent or delay the onset of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s. A low-calorie diet appears to activate a class of enzymes known as sirtuins, and resveratrol seems to have the same effect.

Resveratrol in clinical trials.

A Phase 2 clinical trial, completed in 2014, included 119 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease. Participants took capsules containing placebo or resveratrol, starting with a dose of 500 mg a day and increasing to 1 gram twice a day.

Researchers measured participants’ blood levels of beta-amyloid-40, a protein that typically decreases in the blood as Alzheimer’s disease progresses. Patients treated with resveratrol showed little to no change in beta-amyloid-40 blood levels, while a decrease was observed in the placebo group.

An analysis of 19 participants from each of the resveratrol and placebo groups also showed evidence that resveratrol restores the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, whose role is to restrict the movement of molecules and cells between the blood system and the brain. Patients treated with resveratrol had lower levels in their cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord) of a protein that at high levels breaks down blood-brain barrier.

Then, a pilot study released in late March reported on the effects of 90 days of resveratrol supplementation on cognitive function in the elderly. The authors conducted a double-blind, Phase 2a randomized, placebo-controlled trial at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL. Subjects were 32 sedentary, overweight, older adults.

Participants were randomized to one of three treatment groups (placebo, 300 mg/day resveratrol, 1000 mg/day resveratrol) for 90 days. Cognitive function was assessed before and after treatment using a well-characterized test battery: Trail Making, Digits Forward and Backward, Erikson-Flanker, Controlled Oral Word Association, Hopkins Verbal Learning Test-Revised, and Task Switching.

The trial results showed psychomotor speed improved on the Trail Making Test in participants taking 1000 mg/day of resveratrol compared with participants in both the 300 mg/day condition and the placebo condition (p = 0.02).

The authors concluded, “The study suggests that 90 days of resveratrol supplementation at a dose of 1000/mg per day selectively improves psychomotor speed but does not significantly affect other domains of cognitive function in older adults. These findings provide modest support to further study the effects of resveratrol on cognitive function in older adults.”

Bottom Line:

In light of the above findings, sadly, I am prepared to consume only decaffeinated coffee but happy to increase–just slightly–my consumption of resveratrol. And I don’t mean the type found in grape juice, peanuts and berries.

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