All hail, ye women of coffee! Yes, I’m talking to you — you late-night freelancers, you hard-studying (or hard-partying) Texas A & M students, you business executives! You, yoga master, sneaking delicious cups of bitter decadence. (I know you’re out there)! You, mother of five who laughs at doctors’ orders to get her “eight hours”! Haha! Yes, it is our time to shine. A new study, published in this month’s edition of Neurology, states that women who drink three or more cups of coffee a day in old age are more likely to have a sharper mind.
“Excuse me,” you ask, “you mean I’ve been trying to quit for nothing?” Well, no, not exactly. French researcher Karen Ritchie, lead author of the study and research director at the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research, doesn’t advocate picking up the addiction or drinking with wanton abandon. Her studies of over 7,000 men and women do confirm, however, an association with higher mental acuity and women who consume three or more cups of coffee or tea every day.
No one’s sure why coffee doesn’t seem to affect men this way. “It may be that men and women metabolize caffeine differently or that there is a hormonal interaction,” said Ritchie.
For residents of Texas, three cups a day may be an easy quota to fill. The iced, black, caffeinated variety of tea is fairly commonplace, as are, of course, good ol’ cups of joe. Coffee and tea shops abound in cities like Austin, Dallas, and Houston, making access even to gourmet selections easy — with or without the home version of that really great espresso machine. And with better health in old age, so comes better health insurance rates, a real problem in a state where twenty-five percent of its total population — and twenty-seven percent of its young adult population — is uninsured.
Ritchie followed her subjects, whose average age was seventy-four, over four years and documented coffee and tea intake through interviews. Mental acuity was then measured by widely accepted tests of visual skills and verbal recall. Her team also recorded information on education, income, depression, and alcohol and tobacco use. After controlling for variables, women over the age of sixty-five who drank three or more cups of coffee or tea a day were found to be “one-third as likely to have a significant decline in verbal skills” than those who consumed only one cup or less per day. Women over the age of eighty-five who drank similar quantities were seventy percent less likely to suffer these deficits.
Though there were not enough cases to link the results with possible effects on Alzheimer’s disease, the findings could prove, to say the least, significant. A seventy percent decrease in likelihood of symptoms is almost astronomical in statistical terms, and the study is making international headlines. According to the National Institute on Aging, more than 4.5 million people in America alone suffer from Alzheimer’s and that number is expected to grow to as high as 16 million by 2050.
Currently, there is no cure, no known cause, and few medications for a disease that is set to devastate the healthcare and health insurance industries. Even drug companies like Wyeth, which has twenty-three separate projects going to find effective medications for Alzheimer’s, warn that it will be at least a decade before significant improvements are made in treatment options.
Dealing with the extreme memory loss, mental confusion, incontinence, irrational behavior, disturbed sleep patterns, and aggression that often accompany the condition is overwhelming in itself for millions of caretakers, family members, and healthcare workers. The financial burden can be just as taxing, with costs adding up to $100 billion a year for the nation, $1 billion of that going directly to medications that may or may not alleviate symptoms and do nothing to actually halt the disease process itself.
It’s frightening for young, sharp minds to think of ourselves as old, frail, incontinent, and mentally vacant — even if the possibility is decades away. Could a simple thing like coffee really be a part of staving off dementia? What if — what if — a few doses of caffeine, combined with common sense and good health practices, could really keep the active women of today acute and formidable in later years? In that case, don’t feel so bad for a few cups of delicious, fragrant indulgence, yoga master. You may, after all, just be saving your sanity.
Being aware of the latest health studies is an important part of taking care of yourself. Minding your health will certainly affect you as you age, and eventually your wallet.
Pat Carpenter writes for Precedent Insurance Company. Precedent puts a new spin on health insurance. Learn more at Precedent.com
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