Scientists from the Stanford University School of Medicine were studying the causes of chronic inflammation in older patients and found that caffeine may be able to reduce these symptoms. The same study provided new insights into age-related chronic inflammation, a problem that can lead to high blood pressure and heart disease. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Nature Medicine.
Many of the diseases that occur as a person ages are connected to mild but chronic inflammation. Age-related chronic inflammation has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, dementia, arthritis, and even some forms of cancer. There are currently anti-inflammatory drugs on the market but they tend to cause side effects and can suppress the immune system of older patients. Chronic inflammation is poorly understood and researchers don’t know the exact mechanisms or signal pathways behind the problem.
A team of researchers studied inflammasomes, receptors that detect pathogens and activate the inflammatory response. Inflammasomes are thought to be at least partially responsible for age-related chronic inflammation but they’ve been understudied in medical research. While there are probably a lot of reasons for chronic inflammation, inflammasomes might be a good target for the development of new medications.
The research team collected blood samples from human adults of various ages. All of the participants had been part of a decade-long study, allowing the team to control for non-related medical problems and lifestyle factors. The researchers quickly found that the older adults had active genes that were not yet activated in younger patients. These gene clusters released an inflammatory protein called IL-1-beta. When these genes were highly active, patients tended to have increased blood pressure, stiff arteries, and more inflammation. If the genes were less active, there was less inflammation; this was true for both young and old participants. Interestingly, these same patients had higher caffeine intake, leading the researchers to conduct a follow-up study to examine the effects of caffeine on IL-1-beta levels.
Scientists incubated immune cells with a combination of caffeine and nucleic-acid metabolites, substances that can lead to increased inflammation by activating the genes responsible for producing IL-1-beta. They found that caffeine appeared to block the activity of these nucleic-acid metabolites. This significantly reduced the inflammatory response.
While the findings may point to the use of caffeinated beverages for treating chronic inflammation, the authors caution that it’s not quite that simple. It appears that caffeine can block the activation of genes associated with age-related inflammation but this doesn’t necessarily mean that coffee will prevent heart disease. Instead, the findings are important because they allow researchers to focus on a possible target when developing treatments.
Furman et al. Expression of specific inflammasome gene modules stratifies older individuals into two extreme clinical and immunological states. Nature Medicine (2017).