Caffeine May Reduce Age-Related Inflammation, Stanford Aging Study


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Caffeine may be able to reduce inflammation.

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Inflammatory immune molecules increase as we age and are associated with mortality from all causes, Alzheimer’s disease, stiffening of arteries, hypertension and cardiac disease. Inflammation kills. Yesterday Stanford and colleagues from University of Bordeaux published results of a long term aging study of 114 patients in Nature Medicine (paywall):

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Expression of specific inflammasome gene modules stratifies older individuals into two extreme clinical and immunological states

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For nonscientists, see below. Caffeine may block inflammation. Adenosine and adenine are known to stimulate the inflammasome. Caffeine blocks the effect of adenosine.

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“They found that older people between the ages of 60 and 89 tend to ramp up production of immune molecules in a complex called the inflammasome. That’s a clump of immune proteins inside cells that activate one of the immune system’s big guns, called interleukin 1 beta or IL-1B. It’s an important molecule for fighting off infection, but too much of it for too long has been linked with chronic diseases like heart diseasecancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

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Among the older people in the study, 12 of them made much more of these inflammatory molecules, and 11 people made much less. The less-inflamed group was also healthier, with lower blood pressure, more flexible arteries, and more relatives who lived past age 90.

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They also had lower levels of the breakdown products of DNA and RNA circulating in their blood, including one molecule called adenine, and another called adenosine — which is adenine attached to a sugar molecule. These molecules are known to stimulate the inflammasome, and lower levels of them could explain why this group was less inflamed. In fact, treating cells with these breakdown products made them churn out more inflammatory molecules, and made mice more inflamed, with higher blood pressure.

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HIGHER BLOOD LEVELS OF CAFFEINE CORRELATED WITH LESS INFLAMMATION

That’s where the caffeine comes in. Caffeine is known to block the effects of adenosine in the brain — that’s how scientists think it keeps us awake. So, the researchers suspected that it’s possible that it could block the effects of adenine and adenosine on immune cells, too, and reduce their ability to cause inflammation. According to a questionnaire, people in the less inflamed group consumed more caffeinated beverages like coffee, soda, and tea. In fact, higher blood levels of caffeine and other caffeine breakdown products correlated with lower production of inflammatory molecules like IL-1B.

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When the scientists treated cells with adenine and another molecule known to trigger the inflammasome, the cells that were soaking in caffeine produced far lower levels of inflammatory molecules. The researchers still haven’t fully explained how caffeine is interfering with inflammation. And the results aren’t enough to base any behavioral recommendations off of; but it’s comforting news for those of us who were already reaching for that second hit of caffeine, anyways.”

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Many articles on pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1β, IL-6, and TNF-α are found in the setting of chronic pain and in depression:

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IL-1β is an essential mediator of the antineurogenic and anhedonic effects of stress.

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Depressed rodents shown to have inflammation, published by Yale and NIMH a few years ago.

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