I vividly remember my grandma joking with me when I was little that drinking coffee (even with my excessive amount of creamer) would stunt my growth. Well…here I am at 23 and a whopping 5’2″, so maybe she was right. But, what I didn’t know back then was that a study done by CAIDE showed that early-aged coffee drinking of 2-5 cups per day was associated with a decreased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by about 65% at late-life. (M. Eskelinen, 2020).
You might be thinking to yourself, “Really, coffee??”
America runs on Dunkin. Good till the last drop. The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup. Sound familiar? 56% of Americans are coffee drinkers and consume an average of 3.1 cups a day. From age 18-64, the typical full-time employee will drink 47,840 cups of coffee.
*Disclaimer* Before I get too far into this blog, I am NOT telling you to chug a coffee or increase your caffeine intake. If you start to feel jittery, anxious, and mildly nauseous, cut back on your caffeine consumption. “The FDA’s recommended limit is 400 milligrams a day per person, which is about four cups of coffee.” (Office of Commissioner, n.d.).
There are many well-known benefits to coffee and the caffeine in it – staying awake and alert, boosting your metabolism, a beneficial antioxidant and many others. With the stimulating aspect of caffeine, researchers have always been curious as to how it affects those with dementia and Alzheimer’s – both diseases that affect 5.8 million people in the world. (Alzheimer’s Association, 2019)
In another study, researchers looked at what happens when the brain is starved of oxygen, known as hypoxia, and how the caffeine in coffee affects the response. Hypoxia sends the brain cells into panic mode, similar to what we see in neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. It triggers the release of a chemical called adenosine, which in turn causes a chain reaction of enzymes leading to inflammation. Caffeine interferes with this by blocking the cells’ ability to recognize adenosine, reducing the extent of inflammation (basically, protecting against the inflammation some see with early dementia). (Alzheimer’s Association, 2019).
You might be wondering, “My loved one already has dementia or Alzheimer’s, should they still be drinking quite a few cups a day?” The short answer is no. Researchers suggest that long-term caffeine consumption may worsen the behavioral symptoms of Alzheimer’s or dementia. In a study of mice with Alzheimer’s, researchers found that prolonged exposure to caffeine was linked to increases in behavioral symptoms of the disease, such as anxiety, behavioral outbursts, insomnia, agitation and stress. (H. Whiteman, 2018).
As we age, we may become more sensitive to the effects that caffeine has on our body. Older adults (especially those affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia) may need to keep their consumption to earlier in the day. Cut off caffeine at least four hours before bed to ensure caffeine won’t contribute to any sleep interruptions, or behavioral expressions – especially those that sun down.
An important thing to keep in mind is to be familiar with your loved one’s triggers and do what works best for them. Understand that caffeine can affect everyone differently, and those with Alzheimer’s and dementia are all different, with different symptoms, wants and needs. If you are concerned about your loved one’s caffeine consumption and/or how it is affecting their disease, please consult a physician.
For those in the younger age bracket, or those that haven’t been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia – if you’re already a coffee drinker, you can feel good knowing that your regular routine might have an association with a lower risk of dementia and stroke.
Walk to end alzheimer’s: Alzheimer’s association�. Alzheimer’s Association. (n.d.). Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://act.alz.org
Commissioner, O. of the. (n.d.). Spilling the beans: How much caffeine is too much? U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/spilling-beans-how-much-caffeine-too-much
M;, E. M. H. K. (n.d.). Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
Whitman, H. (n.d.). Alzheimer’s: The role of coffee. Medical News Today. Retrieved May 19, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321406