Caffeine May Prevent Age-Related Inflammation


Researchers are giving coffee lovers another reason to keep enjoying a morning cup of joe. According to a recent study, caffeine may be able to block inflammation that worsens with age.

Published in the journal Nature Medicine, the correlation study examines the effect caffeine has on the immune system. The findings could explain why coffee has been said to help prevent other health issues like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and dementia.

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In what began as a study on aging, researchers from Stanford University and the University of Bordeaux studied the genes of 114 subjects. Blood samples, data from past surveys and family medical history were used to complete the analysis.

They compared data from healthy people aged 20-30 years old, with people aged 60 and over. Their findings showed that people between the ages of 60 and 89 had an elevated production of an inflammatory protein called IL-1-beta. That same group also had a greater risk of stiff arteries, high blood pressure and death during the study period, compared to those who had lower levels of the IL-1-beta protein.

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“Those in whom the inflammatory-gene activity was highest turned out to be much more likely to have high blood pressure, to have other signs of cardiovascular disease, and to die sooner than the ones with the lowest levels of activity in these gene groups,” said Bruce Goldman, a science writer from Stanford Medicine’s Office of Communication.

This led the researchers to an interesting discovery. Among the elderly people involved in the study, 12 of them produced significantly more inflammatory molecules than the remaining 11. The latter group were also healthier, having lower blood pressure, more flexible arteries and relatives older than 90.

Fortunately, there is something that can prevent these molecules from causing inflammation. That’s where caffeine comes in.

The biggest variable between the high inflammation group and low inflammation group was caffeine intake. Elderly participants who reported consuming more caffeinated beverages produced less inflammation-causing genes.

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“That something many people drink — and actually like to drink — might have a direct benefit came as a surprise to us,” Davis said. “What we’ve shown is a correlation between caffeine consumption and longevity.”

Lead author of the study David Furman, says more than 90 percent of all non-communicable diseases of aging are associated with chronic inflammation.

“It’s also well-known that caffeine intake is associated with longevity. Many studies have shown this association,” he adds.  

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Not a coffee drinker? Not to worry. Non-coffee drinkers can still reap the benefits of caffeine in other ways, like by drinking tea or eating dark chocolate.

“All caffeine is the same. A molecule of caffeine doesn’t care where it came from,” Goldman says. “It’s identical to any other molecule of caffeine. But coffee has the most of any beverage we tend to drink [and] coffee drinkers live longer.”

While the study confirms that caffeine consumption is beneficial, the research doesn’t fully explain how caffeine interferes with inflammation. And the results aren’t quite enough to make medical recommendations from.