The humble espresso could help in the fight against dementia, according to scientists. A new study conducted at Verona University in Italy suggests that drinking just one espresso a day could have a significant impact on reducing the risk of developing dementia, particularly Alzheimer's.
The lead author of the study, Professor Mariapina D'Onofrio, and her team studied the effects of espresso consumption on the brain, and specifically focused on its ability to counteract the formation of tau proteins. These proteins accumulate in the brains of people with neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer's.
The research suggests that the compounds found in espresso actively break down these tau proteins, preventing the damage they inflict on neurons and slowing the subsequent cognitive decline.
The findings indicate that even the Espresso Martini cocktail contains the espresso's beneficial compounds - and can contribute to staving off dementia.
In healthy people, tau proteins play a crucial role in stabilizing the brain. But in those with neurodegenerative diseases, these proteins can clump together and form harmful 'fibrils' that disrupt neural function, leading to the cognitive impairments known as dementia.
Lab experiments carried out as part of the study demonstrated that espresso effectively counteracts the formation of these fibrils. The research also noted a geographical angle to the findings - revealing that around 96 percent of Italians consume espresso on a daily basis, indicating a potential dietary habit that may contribute to the lower prevalence of dementia in certain regions.
Making use of advanced scanning techniques, the team used nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to delve into the chemical composition of espresso shots made from store-bought coffee beans.
Professor D'Onofrio said: "Whether enjoyed on its own or mixed into a latte, Americano or even a martini, espresso provides an ultra-concentrated jolt of caffeine to coffee lovers.
"But it might do more than just wake you up. Espresso compounds can inhibit tau protein aggregation - a process that is believed to be involved in the onset of Alzheimer's disease."
Another key study in Florida that was reported on in 2012 followed people with mild cognitive impairment (namely, thinking and memory problems beyond ordinary aging) and monitored their caffeine levels and cognitive ability over two to four years.
Those researchers found that people who did not develop dementia had twice as much caffeine in their blood as those who did.
But the Alzheimer's society said these studies often cannot be relied upon for a definitive answer, saying there is no way of determining if the caffeine levels affected dementia or the other way around. Sleeping problems brought on by dementia might cause someone to give up caffeine, for example. The results cannot distinguish between cause and effect.
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