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Posted: April 08, 2008

Can a Coffee a Day Keep Alzheimer's Away?

That morning jolt of caffeine in your coffee may do a lot more than wake you. New research finds that it may fight high cholesterol and, in turn, cut your risk of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

High levels of cholesterol in the blood can create a "leak" in a vital barrier between the brain and the main blood supply. This "blood brain barrier" is a filter that protects the central nervous system from potentially harmful chemicals carried around in the rest of the bloodstream.

Researchers from the University of North Dakota, reporting in the Journal of Neuroinflammation, said they used the caffeine equivalent of just one daily cup of coffee in their experiments on rabbits. After three months of a high-cholesterol diet, the "blood brain barrier" or BBB -- in test rabbits given caffeine was far more intact than in those who did not receive any caffeine.

Previous studies have indicated a link between high levels of cholesterol and leaks in the brain barrier, but there was no indication of why the link existed. This latest study ties the reason to the leaks and the vulnerability to dementia they create for the brain, as well as caffeine’s protective benefit.

"Caffeine appears to block several of the disruptive effects of cholesterol that make the blood-brain barrier leaky," said Dr. Jonathan Geiger, who led the North Dakota study. "High levels of cholesterol are a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, perhaps by compromising the protective nature of the blood-brain barrier. For the first time we have shown that chronic ingestion of caffeine protects the BBB from cholesterol-induced leakage."

Geiger added: "Caffeine is a safe and readily available drug, and its ability to stabilize the blood-brain barrier means it could have an important part to play in therapies against neurological disorders."

Scientists say the next step in pursuing this finding is to conduct similar tests on humans.

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