Coffee Appears to Lower Dementia Risk
> 1/28/2009 5:09:18 PM

Coffee: many, if not most of us drink it on a regular basis despite reports naming caffeine as a dangerously addictive stimulant and old wives’ tales insisting that it will lead to high blood pressure, hypertension and burnout. Coffee has long frustrated researchers who look to place it, once and for all, in either the healthy or unhealthy column, and ongoing studies continue to offer contradictory reports on its long-term benefits. The results of a newly completed long-term study will surely confuse that pursuit even more. Its conclusion: drinking generous amounts of coffee each day appears to lower the risk of dementia in adults.

Data gathered in this lengthy Danish study strongly supports the idea that coffee has previously unknown cognitive benefits.  Researchers traced the health patterns and coffee consumption levels of 2,000 middle-aged subjects over a period lasting more than two decades. As expected, a large share (61) of the 1,400 individuals still living at the end of this period had developed dementia, and the condition was a side-effect of Alzheimer’s Disease for the majority of those affected. After controlling for independent factors like cholesterol, blood pressure and related lifestyle variables, researchers found that those who reported drinking 3 to 5 cups a day over the study’s duration were 65% less likely to develop dementia than both those whose daily intake numbered only 1 or 2 cups and those who refrained from coffee altogether.

This is not an entirely new finding: previous studies have linked coffee consumption to a decreased likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease. Researchers are not yet sure exactly how their results came about, but several theories exist: coffee has been proven in earlier reports to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, a condition that very often precedes dementia. It has been shown to slow the development of the amyloid plaques that cover and disable the brains of Alzheimer’s subjects. And it has a noted antioxidant effect, reducing the presence of vascular dementia risk factors within the bloodstream.

These researchers, like the studiously objective academics they are, refuse to endorse coffee as a dementia deterrent. So what larger messages can one draw from their conclusions? While we can’t recommend coffee as a “treatment,” middle-aged adults shouldn’t worry too much about whether they drink two to four cups of coffee in the morning – at least in relation to their neurological development. Caffeine is a habit-forming stimulant that can definitely be abused, but drinking it each day, even in relatively generous doses, does not appear to be a recipe for neurological disaster. The cognitive benefits of cream and sugar are another issue entirely.

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