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Caffeine and Parkinson’s: A Test for Early Diagnosis?

Jan 15, 2018 by Comfort Keepers of the Low Country

More than 4 million people around the world have Parkinson’s. And just like other conditions that affect so many seniors, such as Alzheimer’s and cancer, Parkinson’s is still such an elusive disease.

A breakthrough may have been found in early diagnosis, however. How your body processes that cup of coffee may be more telling than you think. Here’s what we know about Parkinson’s, and this new study on caffeine’s link to the condition:

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative condition in which certain cells in your brain, located in a region called the substantia nigra, begin to die. These cells are important in that they produce a compound called dopamine, which acts as a chemical messenger to other parts of the body in terms of movement. This is why Parkinson’s patients have both uncontrollable tremors as well as, conversely, the inability to move certain parts of their body when they actually want to.

The causes of Parkinson’s are still mostly unknown. Scientists currently speculate that both genes and environment play a role, working off of each other to begin the killing of these brain cells and kick start this disease.

There are, however, risk factors to be aware of, such as:

  • Age. Those over 60 are most at risk for the condition.
  • Race. White people get Parkinson’s the most.
  • Job. Factory or farming jobs may expose you to chemicals that can cause Parkinson’s down the line.
  • Gender. For some unknown reason, men get it more than women.
  • Family history. You’re more likely to get it if you have parents or siblings who have it.

Predicting Parkinson's With Caffeine?

While causes are still a mystery, a new study shares some good news: caffeine levels in the blood may be able to predict Parkinson’s even before any symptoms arise.

The 6-year-long study involved 108 participants with Parkinson’s disease and 31 without, all relatively the same age. Gene variants were tested to ensure they were focusing on caffeine’s direct effects to the condition instead of genetics playing a part. Each individual was given caffeine equivalent to two cups of coffee per day.

Their caffeine levels in the blood were monitored. It was found that those with Parkinson’s had less than one third of the amount of caffeine in their blood than the participants without the disease. The researchers claim this new caffeine assessment may be 98% reliable in predicting the condition.

This information plays off of previous research that links increased caffeine consumption to lowering the risk of getting Parkinson’s.

This is wonderful news, as by the time the classic symptoms of Parkinson’s hit (such as tremors and mobility issues), the disease is already in its later stages.

Caveats to Using Caffeine As A Precursor

As with any study, there were some limitations to this one, some that need to be looked into before we can truly deduce whether low caffeine levels in the blood can help predict Parkinson’s.

For starters, none of the Parkinson’s patients involved in the study had a severe form of the condition. Their bodies may process caffeine differently than early stage, so we don’t know whether an all-around low caffeine concentration in the blood indicates Parkinson’s in general, or just early stage.

Secondly, the Parkinson’s patients that were in the study were all taking medication throughout the entirety of the study period. Perhaps these medications affect how caffeine is metabolized and absorbed in the body, leading to faulty data. We don’t know for sure the medications’ influence on caffeine metabolism.

Regardless, any progress made towards finding a cure, earlier diagnosis and earlier treatment for neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s is very exciting. Perhaps in the years to come, caffeine tests may be a regular standard when diagnosing this condition.

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