Could coffee play a role in reducing the risk of age-related cognitive decline?

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Expert comment from Professor Athanase Benetos, Academic Director, EUGMS, France

The demographic population of Europe is changing: the population of older adults is growing. The United Nations’ ‘World Population Ageing’ report highlights that there were 176.5 million people aged 60 years or over in 2015, and that this figure is projected to rise to 217.2 million by 2031. Understanding and communicating diet and lifestyle factors that may limit age-related cognitive decline will therefore help to improve the quality of life for this growing demographic.

The European Union Geriatric Medicine Society (EUGMS)’s mission is to develop geriatric medicine in all EU member states and Switzerland, as a recognised independent medical specialty, contributing to the care of all older people with age-related diseases. It was a pleasure to welcome the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee at the 2016 Congress in Lisbon, Portugal and participate as chairperson at the ISIC symposium on ‘Nutrition, Coffee and Age-Related Cognitive Decline’.

The congress brings together specialists and healthcare professionals to discuss current trends and upcoming topics in geriatrics, from general practitioners and neurologists, to nurses, researchers and nutritionists. The research presented on the relationship between coffee consumption and ageing during ISIC’s symposium was of particular interest to our audience.

The research presented at the symposium, further detailed in a report, suggested that a regular, lifelong, moderate consumption of coffee/caffeine may slow down physiological, age-related cognitive decline, and may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease.

The symposium panel comprised three eminent experts:

  • Professor Lisette de Groot, Professor of Nutrition and Ageing, Division of Human Nutrition at Wageningen University (The Netherlands)
  • Professor Rodrigo A. Cunha, Professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Coimbra and Principal Investigator at the Centre for Neuroscience and Cell Biology of the University of Coimbra (CNC) (Portugal)
  • Dr Elisabet Rothenberg, Associate Professor of Nutrition at Kristianstad University (Sweden)

Professor de Groot introduced ‘the role of nutrition in cognitive function as we age’, highlighting that intakes of dietary components such as omega 3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and antioxidant nutrients have been associated with improvements in cognition in the elderly. The dietary pattern associated with a Mediterranean-style diet provides good sources of these nutrients, and overall is associated with aspects of healthy ageing such as improvements in cognitive and cardiovascular health.

Professor Cunha highlighted current evidence and potential mechanisms for an association between coffee, caffeine and cognitive decline, describing how recent meta-analyses suggests a ‘U-shaped’ pattern, with the greatest protection seen at an intake of approximately 3–5 cups of coffee per day. Although the precise mechanisms of action behind the suggested association between coffee and age-related cognitive decline are unknown, since the effect is observed with caffeinated but not decaffeinated coffee, caffeine is likely to be involved.

While considering ‘in practice healthcare advice for patients, Dr Elisabet Rothenberg acknowledged EFSA’s conclusion that intakes of up to 400mg of caffeine per day (the equivalent of up to 5 cups of coffee) do not raise any concerns for healthy adults, and that coffee can contribute to hydration as well as a stimulating social experience for the elderly.

Healthy ageing can help to maintain quality of life in later years and limit the economic burden of disease. Maintaining cognitive function is a key element of healthy ageing. The suggested association between coffee and reduced risk of age-related cognitive decline will undoubtedly remain a topic of interest among those practicing geriatric medicine or advising patients concerned about healthy ageing.

This information is intended for Healthcare professional audiences.
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