Western medicine loves its pharmaceuticals. There are pills, injections, inhalers and patches for every conceivable ailment. It seems that each month brings a new drug delivery system to pharmacy shelves and medicine cabinets, promising to relieve or cure whatever ails us. Unfortunately, our dependence on chemical compounds has brought with it a slew of unwanted side-effects, the problem of antibiotic resistance, and in many cases has moved us no closer to preventing devastating disease.
Looking instead to nature for answers, scientists from the universities of Bonn and Lille have presented groundbreaking clinical research on the cognitive benefits of caffeine. With little chemical manipulation, they found that coffee has the power to not only boost memory, but actually prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease – a heartbreaking condition that afflicts millions of families across North America.
Surpassing previous research roadblocks
The German-French team, led by Dr. Christa E. Müller from the University of Bonn and Dr. David Blum from the University of Lille looked at how caffeine affects something called tau deposits. Tau deposits are proteins that disrupt the communication of nerve cells in the brain, and ultimately cause them to degenerate – they are early indicators of Alzheimer’s. Müller and Blum have demonstrated that tau deposits can be reduced by caffeine – and have developed a new drug that channels and refines its power. Big Pharma has never been able to prevent tau deposits but instead makes drugs to treat Alzheimer symptoms. And while pharmaceutical quality assurance guidelines are tough, these medicines come with long lists of unpleasant side effects.
Harnessing the preventative power of caffeine
Although studies have shown that consuming several cups of coffee per day can help strengthen memory, Müller and Blum do not suggest that Alzheimer’s disease can be prevented simply by doubling one’s daily visit to Starbucks. They have worked to develop a new drug that harnesses and refines the power of caffeine, specifically, its ability to block a particular adenosine receptor called A2A. The compound they engineered is significantly more impactful than caffeine alone, zeroing in on A2A, and doing so with minimal side effects. Positive tests on mice with tau deposits have demonstrated that the adenosine blockade is central to preventing the development of Alzeimer’s disease.
Implications for patients
Despite the accumulation of tau deposits, the mice who received Müller and Blum’s caffeine compound did significantly better on memory tests than members of the control group. Now the researchers are planning another round of tests on animals who demonstrate all of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. But rigorous pharmaceutical quality control protocols mean long wait times for human trials.The researchers are optimistic, but it could be years before patients benefit from what could represent the pharmaceutical of the future –a biologically targeted, naturally sourced compound.