Throughout the last several decades, caffeine has been alternately touted as hero or villain. For a time, caffeine was blamed for birth defects in children, and healthy eating, in general, meant eliminating food or beverages containing caffeine. Still, one of the most explosive new trends we’ve seen over the last dozen years has been designer coffee shops and kiosks, which show that people will not always follow where health gurus lead. Now the coffee drinkers may be vindicated.
Past studies about a relationship between caffeine and dementia have used animal models or have been conducted using either subjective information or small numbers of people. When it comes to caffeine and Alzheimer’s, solid information has been scarce.
One new study may help clarify the issue. Ira Driscoll, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, conducted a human study on caffeine consumption that was part of the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study.
This study used 6,467 community-dwelling, postmenopausal women who were at least 65 years old. The women were already consuming some level of caffeine from their favorite beverages. Annual cognitive function assessments were taken over that time.
The researchers found that those who consumed more than the median amount of caffeine for this group, after adjusting for any risk factors including smoking, age, race, education, and other variables, were diagnosed with cognitive impairment at a lower rate than those who consumed less caffeine.
“What is unique about this study,” Dr. Driscoll said in a press release on the study, “is that we had an unprecedented opportunity to examine the relationships between caffeine intake and dementia incidence in a large and well-defined, prospectively-studied cohort of women.”
While the research team states that the study doesn’t directly connect caffeine consumption and the risk of cognitive impairment, it does take researchers closer to understanding the connection.
Continued research in this area may eventually aid in the development of a protocol that could contribute to the prevention of Alzheimer’s.
Diseases that may contraindicate using caffeine
While caffeine has promising properties for many people, it can have a negative effect for others, especially those with certain diseases. Those diseases include:
High blood pressure: Caffeine can raise blood pressure for many people, so those with high blood pressure may have to cut back to manage this threat to their health.
Migraines: People who live under a constant threat of migraines are often told to avoid caffeine because caffeine can trigger migraines for some people. To complicate matters, for some who are prone to migraines, caffeine helps stop the attack.
As with most health-related advice, whether or not to drink caffeinated beverages is an individual matter. Since many of us enjoy our coffee, tea, or other caffeinated beverages, it seems that, unless your doctor says that caffeine is contraindicated because of an existing health problem, that extra cup of coffee in the morning may be a good idea and could serve as a protectant for your brain. However, if you have any doubts about safely drinking caffeine because of some health risk, talk with your doctor before you decide.
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_Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver having spent over two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a longtime newspaper columnist and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” as well as a contributor to several additional books on caregiving and dementia. Her websites can be accessed at _www.mindingourelders.com. Follow Carol on _Twitter @mindingourelder and on Facebook Minding Our Elders_.