A study conducted by scientists from France and Germany has revealed that caffeine positively affects deposits of tau protein, which are important signs of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers hope their discovery will result in the development of a new type of drugs to treat the disorder.
One set of subjects consisted of mice that had been bred specifically to develop tau deposits in the brain, according to Medical News Today. When fed regular doses of caffeine, their rate of memory decline was slower than that of the mice in the control group.
People who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease have one of two kinds of the illness, PubMed Health reports. Symptoms are detectable before the age of 60 in patients with the early-onset type, which is the less common of the two. Late-onset Alzheimer’s occurs in individuals who are least 60. Healthcare providers can offer no cure for either type of the brain-wasting disorder.
More than 5 million U.S. adults have this form of dementia, says the Alzheimer’s Association. Among causes of U.S. deaths, it ranks sixth. The estimate of its cost for 2014 is $214 billion. Experts predict that the number will reach $1.2 trillion by 2050.
The German and French researchers published their findings in the journal Neurobiology of Aging. The two signals that Alzheimer’s is present are deposits of tau protein, which clog brain cells, and plaques of amyloid protein, which collect in spaces between the cells. Mice bred to develop similar conditions as those that humans experience are useful because development of either signal is difficult to study in brains of live human subjects.
A number of studies had already demonstrated that a moderate amount of caffeine wards off a decline in memory in seniors and cuts the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. While some researchers have linked caffeine to slowing a decline in mice selected to develop amyloid plaques, the work of the French and German team is the first to analyze the relationship to tau deposits.
The researchers gave the tau mice caffeine in drinking water, using 0.3 gm per liter. Findings suggested that those that received regular caffeine did not develop spatial memory deficits present in the control group and demonstrated that the chemistry of tau proteins in the hippocampus, the memory center in mice, changed in the mice fed caffeine regularly. The results also showed a reduction of some pro-inflammatory and oxidative stress markers in the mice bred to develop tau protein.
Although scientists have known for some time that a beneficial relationship exists between caffeine intake and memory loss, how caffeine is beneficial has been somewhat murky until this research. The work is an initial step in future clinical evaluations in humans who suffer from Alzheimer’s.
Vonda J. Sines has published thousands of print and online health and medical articles. She specializes in diseases and other conditions that affect the quality of life.