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Studies: Coffee May Lower Alzheimer's Risk

Last updated 10:18 a.m. ET.

Two new studies have found that your morning cup of coffee might help treat or even prevent memory loss. Dr. Jennifer Ashton stopped by "The Early Show" to discuss these latest findings.

As Dr. Ashton explained, the studies were done on mice.

"Researchers gave the equivalent of 500 milligrams of caffeine per day to little lab mice, who have been induced to have the same kind of memory changes we see in Alzheimer's disease, and they found a very positive effect on their memory and thinking actions over a two-month period. So put another one in the column of a good effect of caffeine," she explained.

The human equivalent (how much a human being would have to drink to have a similar effect) would be about five medium-sized cups of coffee.

"It looks like a lot, but it's important to realize that now, when we go to a deli or a Starbucks, this could actually be just the equivalent of 2 1/2 large or Grande cups of coffee a day. While it's a little bit more than most people have in the morning, it's actually not such an excessive amount," she said.

Asked how quickly this effect was detected in these mice and how long it lasted, Ashton said, "They saw it over a two-month time period, and they're still following them. It's not yet known whether the changes appear to be permanent or not.

"Their thinking is that actually the caffeine worked by decreasing the inflammation in the brain, cuts down on the buildup of protein we see in the brain of people with Alzheimer's disease."

The studies appeared in the July 5 online edition of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

Ashton said the findings are very encouraging. "People are affected by Alzheimer's. While it's important to remember that caffeine is a drug, this is something that's readily accessible in our environment practically. It's in people's day-to-day, and something that can have an effect like this is very important and very encouraging."

Ashton notes that some caution is advised. Caffeine is a drug, and can be associated with increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, jitteriness, palpitations and dehydration.

"For people who have irregular heart beats, hypertension, women who are pregnant or those who are sensitive to the effects of caffeine, coffee, tea or soda should be consumed in moderation."

These people should also discuss caffeine consumption with their health care provider.

Asked if she'd encourage people to drink more coffee, Ashton said, "It's important to see the coffee didn't have a healing effect but more of a therapeutic effect. More studies are on the way."

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