Several anecdotal reports have shown the beneficial effects of caffeine in Parkinson’s disease. But is it really helpful and what does the research say about this? Let’s try to figure it out in this short article.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the most common neurological condition that has affected 1-2% of the world population over the age of 65. People with this disease have severe motor abnormalities. They often show slowness of movement, tremor, rigidity, and difficulty in balance. In addition, they also experience some non-motor disabilities. These include constipation, loss of smell, sleep problems, fatigue, low blood pressure, and psychiatric disturbances.
Medication is the mainstay treatment to control PD symptoms. However, it is still not an effective disease-modifying treatment and often comes with side effects that pose negative effects on the quality of life of a patient. For that reason, researchers are looking for alternative therapies that improve Parkinson’s symptoms without deteriorating the patient’s condition. In this regard, several dietary factors have been investigated, some of which are found to be potentially promising therapeutic candidates. One such candidate is caffeine.
Caffeine-containing drinks, perhaps not surprisingly, are the most popular drinks available today. Current estimates show that approximately 80% of the world’s adult population consumes it regularly, largely for enhancing mental performance and reducing fatigue.
Does Caffeine Protect from Parkinson’s Disease?
The idea that caffeine provides protection against PD is not random. Several epidemiological and experimental studies have been published in support of this notion.
The first study that reported the neuroprotective effects of caffeine was published in 2000. In this 30 years follow-up study, the link between dietary caffeine intake and the risk of PD was explored in 8004 Japanese-American men. The study found that a daily intake of 784 mg/kg or more of coffee during the mid-age greatly (5X) reduces the risk of PD at age 65.
Results from this and many other related studies strongly suggest that a persistent lack of caffeine in the body could prone a person to develop PD. In fact, this was proven in a laboratory experiment where blood samples from 108 Parkinson’s patients were examined for caffeine levels and compared with blood from healthy individuals. The study found a profound reduction in the level of caffeine in the blood of PD patients. Researchers of the study suggested that lower levels of caffeine could be used as a diagnostic marker for early PD.
Supporting Evidence from Animal Research
Numerous studies have shown the neuroprotective effects of caffeine in animal models of PD. These studies demonstrated that caffeine protects the dopaminergic neurons, a specific group of cells that are lost in the brain of PD patients. It was even more promising when such a protective effect of caffeine was observed after the onset of the process of neurodegeneration in the brain.
For example, in a laboratory experiment when the rat brain was treated for 28 days with a neurotoxin, there was a progressive loss of dopaminergic neurons. But when the same brain was treated with caffeine, the loss was prevented. Researchers of the study found that this prevention was apparent when caffeine was introduced after the brain has started the neurodegeneration process.
How About its Beneficial Effects in Parkinson’s Patients?
While results from animal research are encouraging, there is uncertainty about the therapeutic use of caffeine in PD. Researchers are still reluctant to propose it as an effective treatment option for PD. So far, two studies have been published that indicate that caffeine could benefit people with PD.
In one randomized trial, Parkinson’s patients were given 100-200 mg of caffeine tablets twice daily for 6 weeks. At the end of the study, patients’ motor and nonmotor symptoms were evaluated. Although the non-motor symptoms remained unchanged, caffeine consumption did cause improvement in the motor functions of patients. Researchers of the study suggested conducting a long-term trial to confirm the beneficial motor effects of caffeine.
A similar beneficial effect of caffeine on motor symptoms was also found in a recent study published in the Journal of BMC Neurology. In this study, coffee consumption and tremor severity were evaluated in 284 patients with de novo PD. The study found that coffee drinkers have reduced tremor compared to non-coffee drinkers. This beneficial effect was observed in both male and female patients.
While few studies provide equivocal results, most studies have shown evidence of caffeine’s ability to protect the brain from developing PD. Some suggest that in people with PD caffeine consumption should be encouraged if adverse effects are tolerable.
If you have Parkinson’s disease and are willing to use caffeine for improving your symptoms, we strongly recommend discussing it with your doctor first.
Disclaimer: The information shared here should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions presented here are not intended to treat any health conditions. For your specific medical problem, consult with your health care provider.