Your morning cup of coffee could help to fight inflammation and cardiovascular diseases associated with ageing and even increase your longevity, according to new research.
In a new study published in the scientific journal Nature Medicine, immunology researchers from Stanford University in the US have discovered that caffeine can counteract the effects of age-related inflammation.
They are yet to establish a clear cause and effect relationship, but the results are promising.
“More than 90 per cent of all non-communicable diseases of ageing are associated with chronic inflammation,” said lead author Dr David Furman.
Dr Furman’s team analysed blood and genetic samples, survey data, and medical family histories of 114 participants from the long-term study known as the Stanford-Ellison cohort, which began around 10 years ago.
They found circulating levels of adenosine, which is one of the building blocks of DNA, and its metabolites can trigger the inflammatory process by stimulating the production of an inflammatory molecule known as interleukin-1-beta (IL-1β).
They also discovered that among the older participants in the study, there were 12 individuals who had ‘high activation’ of the genes that code for IL-1β – nine of them had high blood pressure.
When compared to the 11 individuals who had ‘low activation’ of these genes, only one individual had high blood pressure.
This is where caffeine comes into play – blood tests showed that participants with higher levels of caffeine (and associated metabolites), confirmed by their response to survey questions about caffeinated beverages, had much lower level of genetic activation and hence, lower levels of IL-1β.
“It’s also well known that caffeine intake is associated with longevity,” Dr Furman said. “Many studies have shown this association. We’ve found a possible reason for why this may be so.”
Caffeine acts by blocking adenosine’s actions to ensure there are lower levels of IL-1β circulating in our blood, thus helping to prevent chronic inflammation which can lead to high blood pressure as well as some cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.
“Our findings show that an underlying inflammatory process, which is associated with ageing, is not only driving cardiovascular disease but is, in turn, driven by molecular events that we may be able to target and combat,” senior author Dr Mark Davis said.
“That something many people drink – and actually like to drink – might have a direct benefit came as a surprise to us,” he said.
To further verify their findings, the researchers conducted tests: first, they injected mice with the metabolites to show that they do induce an inflammatory response; and second, they incubated immune cells with both the metabolites and caffeine to show that caffeine was indeed acting to prevent inflammation.
However, they were quick to point out that their results did not establish a solid link between caffeine consumption and age-related inflammation.
In other words, there is no clear cause and effect relationship (yet), but simply a correlation or link between the two.
“What we’ve shown is a correlation between caffeine consumption and longevity,” said Dr Davis.
“And we’ve shown more rigorously, in laboratory tests, a very plausible mechanism for why this might be so.”
So it might not be enough to change your coffee-drinking behaviour just yet, but the message is clear: watch this space.