CINCINNATI—Coffee has been the center of a hot health debate over the years, with studies suggesting it can lower risk for diabetes and colon cancer, lift your mood, treat headaches, decrease risk for developing cavities and even reduce liver damage in heavy drinkers.
And now, says UC neurologist Alberto Espay, MD, coffee—particularly its natural stimulant known as caffeine—is turning heads as a possible prevention for Parkinson’s disease.
Recent studies have shown that coffee drinkers are less likely to develop Parkinson’s. And new laboratory studies have looked at how caffeine works in the brain and determined that it can enhance the effects of the most common drug given to Parkinson’s patients, levodopa.
“In fact, scientists are currently working on drugs for Parkinson’s that act on the brain in the same way caffeine does,” says Espay.
With all we know about coffee, Espay says, if you drink it, keep drinking. And if you don’t, it wouldn’t hurt to start.
“It’s unclear what amount of coffee must be consumed to have the most benefit,” he adds. “But because coffee has no clear health risks, go for it. Just be sure to talk with your doctor first if you have high blood pressure or other health concerns.”
Parkinson’s is a disease that results from the loss of a group of brain cells that produce the natural neurotransmitter dopamine. Without dopamine, brain nerve cells don’t fire properly, causing an inability to control movement.
The most visible signs of the disease—tremors, difficulty with gait and balance, rigidity and stiffness or general slowness when moving—are blamed on this lack of dopamine production in the brain.
But, Espay says, there are other signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that usually appear much earlier and are not directly related to insufficient dopamine. They include sleep difficulties, loss of sense of smell, constipation and depression.
The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation estimates as many as 1 million Americans have Parkinson’s disease and many go undiagnosed.