How Coffee Could Affect Cognitive Decline

Mild cognitive impairment and coffee intake habits may be linked

Your morning brew may protect your brain as you age, but how much you drink could make a big difference.

According to a new Italian study of 1,445 adults aged 65 to 84, moderate coffee intake might help prevent mild cognitive impairment (MCI) — the cognitive decline that precedes dementia. However, too much or too little coffee might not protect against the condition.

“These findings from the Italian Longitudinal Study on Aging suggested that cognitively normal older individuals who never or rarely consumed coffee and those who increased their coffee consumption habits had a higher risk of developing MCI," said co-authors Drs. Vincenzo Solfrizzi and Francesco Panza, of the University of Bari Aldo Moro, in a press release. "Therefore, moderate and regular coffee consumption may have neuroprotective effects also against MCI confirming previous studies on the long-term protective effects of coffee, tea, or caffeine consumption and plasma levels of caffeine against cognitive decline and dementia."

Dementia is an umbrella term for cognitive decline that interferes with daily living. About 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men who live past the age of 55 might develop dementia, a progressive illness with no cure, in their lives, according to the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention.

Symptoms of cognitive impairment can eventually worsen into dementia. They include memory and concentration problems, trouble learning and, in severe cases, trouble speaking or writing.

During this study, Drs. Solfrizzi and Panza combed data from an aging study conducted between 1992 to 1995. They found that those who increased their coffee intake after age 65 to more than 1 cup a day were twice as likely to have MCI than those who decreased their coffee consumption to less than 1 cup a day and 1.5 times more likely to have MCI than those who consistently drank 1 cup a day.

And those who stuck to 1 cup a day consistently had a lower chance of MCI than those who avoided coffee altogether.

In past research, mice that consumed moderate amounts of caffeine had improved memory, while larger amounts led to memory trouble. Caffeine may also help normalize blood sugar, which can lower the chances of diabetes. Diabetes can negatively affect the brain.

"Larger studies with longer follow-up periods should be encouraged, addressing other potential bias and confounding sources, so hopefully opening new ways for diet-related prevention of dementia ..." these researchers wrote.

This study was published July 28 in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.