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Coffee Break: Does Caffeine Perk Up Memory?

A new study finds that loading up on the stimulant may enhance the thinking of older women
drinking coffee



© ISTOCKPHOTO/CHARLES BENVALDEZ
Trying to cut down on your coffee consumption, ladies? Well if you're of a certain age, you might want to reconsider. A new study from France found that women—especially those 65 and over—who reported drinking three-plus cups of java daily did better on memory tests than compeers who drank one or fewer cups a day.

"Caffeine is a psychostimulant which appears to reduce cognitive decline in women," study author Karen Ritchie of INSERM, the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research in Montpellier, France, said in a statement.

Scientists tested 7,000 people over four years; they adjusted for other factors that might affect memory such as age, education, depression, medication and chronic illness. Their findings, published in the new issue of Neurology: Women who drank over three cups of Joe a day were less likely to experience as much memory decline as those who downed a cup or less. And benefits seemed to increase with age: the mega–coffee drinkers were 30 percent less likely to suffer memory loss at age 65 and 70 percent less likely over age 80 than non–coffee drinkers.

But researchers say that doesn't mean you should start guzzling café aux laits or espressos. "While we have some ideas as to how this works biologically, we need to have a better understanding of how caffeine affects the brain before we can start promoting caffeine intake as a way to reduce cognitive decline," Ritchie said. "But the results are interesting—caffeine use is already widespread and it has fewer side effects than other treatments for cognitive decline, and it requires a relatively small amount for a beneficial effect."

So could this be a way to stave off dementia? Alas, although the quaffers in the bunch excelled on memory tests, they did not appear to have lower rates of dementia. "We really need a longer study to look at whether caffeine prevents dementia," Ritchie said. "It might be that caffeine could slow the dementia process rather than preventing it."

One other interesting note: for some reason, men apparently do not receive the same caffeine memory boost as women. Ritchie said researchers are not sure why but speculate that it may be because women are "more sensitive to the effects of caffeine…. Their bodies may react differently to the stimulant, or they may metabolize caffeine differently."

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