Long-Term Caffeine Use Worsens Alzheimer’s Symptoms: Study

Long-Term Caffeine Use Worsens Alzheimer’s Symptoms: Study

Memory loss is the symptom most associated with Alzheimer’s disease, but there are also many neuropsychiatric symptoms that may be present even in its early stages. Known as Behavioral and Psychological Symptoms of Dementia (BPSD), they include anxiety, apathy, depression, hallucinations, and paranoia.

Coffee or caffeine has recently been suggested as a tactic to prevent dementia, both in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and in normal aging processes. Normally, caffeine blocks molecules in the brain called adenosine receptors that can cause dysfunction and disease in old age. However, some research indicates that once the cognitive symptoms occur, caffeine may have the opposite effect.

Researchers studied normal mice and also mice engineered to develop Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. “The mice develop Alzheimer’s disease in a very close manner to the human patients with early-onset form of the disease,” said researcher Raquel Baeta-Corral of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. In addition to developing cognitive problems associated with Alzheimer’s, the mice also exhibit the neuropsychiatric symptoms associated with the disease.

The researchers simulated a long oral treatment with a very low dose of caffeine (0.3 mg/mL) that was the equivalent to a human drinking three cups of coffee. The research was conducted from the time the disease began up to more advanced stages, as well as in healthy age-matched mice.

Results indicated that caffeine changes the behavior of healthy mice and worsens the neuropsychiatric symptoms of mice with Alzheimer’s disease. They found significant effects in relation to neophobia (a fear of everything new), anxiety-related behaviors, and emotional and cognitive flexibility.  

In mice with Alzheimer’s disease, the increase in neophobia and anxiety-related behaviors associated with caffeine worsened their BPSD symptoms, while barely benefiting learning and memory.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s disease is the fifth leading cause of death among people 65 years of age and older, and death rates are climbing. Between 1999 and 2014, death rates increased 55 percent.

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