A chronic inflammatory process that occurs in some, but not all, older people may trigger cardiovascular problems, a new study shows, but part of the solution might be found in a cup of coffee.
Stanford University School of Medicine scientists unearthed a connection between advancing age, systemic inflammation, cardiovascular disease and coffee consumption. Extensive analysis of blood samples, survey data and medical and family histories obtained from more than 100 participants in a multiyear study revealed a fundamental inflammatory mechanism associated with human ageing and the chronic diseases that come with it.
The study, published online on 16 January 2017 in Nature Medicine, implicates this inflammatory process as a driver of cardiovascular disease and increased rates of mortality overall. Metabolites, or breakdown products, of nucleic acids – the molecules that serve as building blocks for our genes – circulating in the blood can trigger this inflammatory process, the study found. The study also provides evidence that caffeine and its own metabolites may counter the action of these circulating nucleic-acid metabolites, possibly explaining why coffee drinkers tend to live longer than abstainers.
“More than 90 per cent of all non-communicable diseases of ageing are associated with chronic inflammation,” said the study’s lead author, David Furman, PhD, a consulting associate professor at the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection. More than 1,000 papers have provided evidence that chronic inflammation contributes to many cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and even depression, he said. “It’s also well-known that caffeine intake is associated with longevity,” Furman said. “Many studies have shown this association. We’ve found a possible reason for why this may be so.”
Mark Davis, PhD, a professor of microbiology and immunology and the director of the Stanford Institute for Immunity, Transplantation and Infection, shared senior authorship of the study with Benjamin Faustin, PhD, a cell biologist at the University of Bordeaux in France. Davis is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. “Our findings show that an underlying inflammatory process, which is associated with aging, is not only driving cardiovascular disease but is, in turn, driven by molecular events that we may be able to target and combat,” said Davis, who holds the Burt and Marion Avery Family Professorship. Notably, this inflammatory mechanism was found to be activated only in some, but not all, of the older study participants. Those in whom it was relatively quiescent tended to drink more caffeinated beverages. Laboratory experiments revealed that the mechanism was directly countered by caffeine and associated compounds. The researchers also found that the inflammatory mechanism was dampened among older participants who tended to drink more caffeinated beverages, such as coffee.
The study was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (grant U19AI090019) and the Ellison Medical Foundation.
Stanford’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology also supported the work.
For more details see the forthcoming March 2017 issue of Coffee & Cocoa International.