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Coffee the Anti-Dementia Drink - But You Need 5 Cups A Day

Are you like me, incapable of human interaction until you've had that first cup (or three) of coffee? Don't feel bad. We're not caffeine addicts, we're just protecting ourselves against Alzheimer's disease.

That's right. A new University of South Florida study says that a component in coffee that interacts with the drink's caffeine appears to help protect the brain against the devastating, memory-robbing disease.

>> Stay sharp with help from the AARP Brain Health Center

The researchers, who have done previous studies on caffeine and coffee's effects, say the findings support the importance of a java habit as you age.

Moderate daily coffee consumption, starting in your 30s to 50s, is optimal for reducing your risk of Alzheimer's, according to USF neuroscientist Chuanhai Cao. Even starting to drink coffee in older age appears protective, he said.

But here's the catch: The cup or two of coffee that the average American drinks is not enough. "Moderate" consumption means 4 to 5 cups a day or about 500 mg. of caffeine. That's the amount other studies have shown has a protective effect, and it's also the amount the Florida team used to counteract Alzheimer's symptoms in mice.

"The human equivalent of two to three cups of coffee does not have benefits in our Alzheimer's mice," Gary Arendash, a researcher at the Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, told NPR.

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, used mice bred to develop symptoms mimicking Alzheimer's disease. The coffee-drinking mice improved their short-term  memory and showed an increase in the blood level of GCSF, a growth factor that is greatly decreased in patients with Alzheimer's.

Previously, the researchers had found that just giving mice caffeinated water reduced by half the amount of abnormal proteins thought to play a role in the development of Alzheimer's. The new study found that caffeine combined with some as yet unidentified component of brewed coffee produces a beneficial result not found in other caffeinated drinks, like tea, or in decaf coffee.

The researchers, however, caution that because they used coffee brewed in a drip maker, they do not know if instant caffeinated coffee would have the same effect.

Although this study used mice, there's a growing number of studies showing dramatically similar benefits in older people.

A 2009 study of 1,400 coffee drinkers from Finland and Sweden found that people who drank three to five cups a day of coffee in their 40s and 50s showed a 65- to 70-percent decrease in risk of developing Alzheimer's in their 70s.

Do you get jittery just thinking about having four or five cups of coffee a day?

Remember, a cup of coffee  equals six ounces. So if you start your day with a tall (12-ounce) Starbucks coffee, that's two cups right there. And then there's the mid-morning coffee break with friends and before you know it, your brain is feeling much better.

Photo credit:   Scholastica via flickr.

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