Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Caffeine and the Brain

Some interesting news about the effect of coffee on the brain; scientists have been studying mice that were given Alzheimer's Disease, to see what the effect of caffeine on these mice might be. In several studies, the Alzheimer's mice on caffeine were shown to retain their short-term memory better than Alzheimer's mice without caffeine. So the big taglines in the news have been all about the benefits of coffee.

"People always talk about it as if it's a little bad for you. That's not necessarily true," says Donald Hensrud, associate professor of Preventive Medicine and Nutrition at the Mayo Clinic. "Coffee contains over 2,000 different chemical components, including cancer-fighting anti-oxidants."

Researchers say 500 mg of caffeine, or about five cups of regular coffee, is the dose that seems to protect the brain.

"I drink five to six cups a day religiously," says Gary Arendash, a researcher at the Florida Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, part of Florida State University. Arendash says he's convinced that caffeine is protecting his brain.

What is interesting about the Alzheimer's study is that the mice were not given any coffee at all. They were given caffeinated water. So here are some questions to ponder:

  1. Reporting has suggested this translates into 500 mg per day for a human. What was the mg/kg dosage that the mice were given?
  2. Does coffee taken in large doses, maybe over an hour in the morning, in humans, equate to caffeinated water in mice?
  3. Do mice drink water all day, or only at certain times?
  4. Could you get the same benefit if you drank 10 cups of tea or the equivalent? 
  5. Are the cups 8 oz or the 5 oz "cups" that the FDA uses as a measure?

Good luck monitoring your daily intake of caffeine if you are planning to drink coffee. The bad news is that every batch of coffee can have different caffeine levels. I guess the researchers wanted to score with the headline, but not actually give people something they could work with. Its almost impossible for the home brewer to know how much caffeine is in that cup after all. So to be like the mice, you'd have to crush up 5 No-Doze tablets in a 2-liter of water and make that last all day while you are awake.

Sounds fun, but not a prescription many of us would want to follow I think. Someone asked me if this post has a point - I think I'll get another cup of coffee and see if I can find it.