Does Drinking Coffee Prevent Parkinson's Disease?

May 25, 2000

(This study was published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, March 24, 2000)

Ahhhh...a hot cup of coffee to start the day or as an afternoon "pick-me-up" or with dessert after a nice meal. Enjoyable, yes - and maybe healthy too. Now there is evidence that the caffeine in coffee may lower the risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

What is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's disease afflicts approximately 1 million to 1.5 million people in the U.S., most of whom are 60 years old or older. The disorder is seen in people of all ethnic groups and among men and women in equal numbers. There is no known cause and no cure, just treatments to help control the symptoms of trembling arms and legs, trouble speaking, and difficulty coordinating movement. Parkinson's disease occurs when neurons degenerate (lose the ability to function normally) in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. Many of these neurons that degenerate contain the neurotransmitter called dopamine. As these neurons degenerate, dopamine levels fall, and the balance between dopamine and other neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine, is thrown off. This neurotransmitter imbalance affects the way muscles work and leads to movement problems.

Products that
Contain Caffeine

Coffee
Tea
Cocoa
Chocolate
Cola drinks
Mountain Dew
Dr. Pepper
Anacin
No Doz

New Research: Caffeine May Provide Protection from Parkinson's Disease

As part of a long-term study of the Honolulu Heart Program, a team of researchers examined the relationship between coffee intake and the incidence of Parkinson's disease. Researchers studied 8,004 Japanese-American men over a 30 year period. Of these men, 102 developed Parkinson's disease. The incidence of Parkinson's disease was found to be lower in those who drank coffee. In fact, the men who drank the most coffee were the least likely to get Parkinson's disease (see graph). Men who did not drink any coffee were five times more likely to exhibit symptoms of Parkinson's disease than men who drank more than 28 ounces of coffee each day. Consumption of caffeine from other sources such as green tea, black tea, chocolate and soda was also associated with a lower risk of Parkinson's disease.

Why Should Coffee Reduce the Risk of Parkinson's Disease?

Caffeine belongs to the xanthine chemical group. A naturally occurring xanthine in the brain called adenosine is used as a neurotransmitter at some synapses. When adenosine receptors are blocked, levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine increase. Caffeine may protect against Parkinson's disease by blocking adenosine receptors, thus increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain.

Although the new research is suggestive of a link between caffeine and Parkinson's disease, it is too early to say that caffeine will prevent Parkinson's disease. Perhaps the brains of people who like and dislike coffee are different. It may be that this difference results in the different incidence of Parkinson's disease and in the consumption of coffee. Also, the study included older, Japanese-American men. It is unknown if the caffeine/Parkinson disease relationship holds for other ethnic groups, women and younger people. As with many preliminary studies, this research requires further experiments to establish a causal link between caffeine and reduced incidence of Parkinson's disease.

Try it!

How much caffeine do you consume each day? Use this worksheet to keep track of the products with caffeine that you consume. Write down the name of the product, the amount you consume of each product (for example, the number of ounces, grams, cups, bars, pills), the amount of caffeine in each product and the time that you consumed the product. Use separate worksheets if you want to track your caffeine consumption on different days.

References and further information:

  1. Ross, G.W., Abbott, R.D., Petrovitch, H., Morens, D.M., Grandinetti, A., Tung, K-H., Tanner, C.M., Masaki, K.H., Blanchette, P.L., Curb, J.D., Popper, J.S. and White, L.R., Association of Coffee and Caffeine Intake With the Risk of Parkinson Disease, JAMA, 283:2674-2679 (May 24), 2000.
  2. The Effects of Caffeine on the Nervous System from Neuroscience for Kids


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