Can Caffeine Help Treat Parkinson’s Disease?

By Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Parkinson’s disease is a central nervous system disorder affecting millions of older Americans. It can be very debilitating and greatly diminish a person’s quality of life.

That’s why when new findings are published using natural remedies, it seriously captures our attention. And that’s exactly what this latest study has done.

Researchers in Montreal recently discovered that caffeine can improve Parkinson’s symptoms.1 This is surprising to many, as we don’t typically think of caffeine as medicine.

If anything, many health enthusiasts have traditionally shied away from coffee because of its caffeine content. Perhaps they shouldn’t write it off so quickly.

Nerve Cells Like Caffeine

In the Montreal study, researchers split a group of Parkinson’s patients into two groups. One group took caffeine pills, equivalent to 2–4 cups of coffee, while the other group took a placebo.

The results were pretty amazing. The caffeine group improved significantly, characterized by more fluid, less rigid movement.1

Scientists aren’t exactly sure how caffeine helps. One theory is that caffeine protects specific brain cells destroyed in Parkinson’s disease.2

These brain cells are sensitive to dopamine, an important neurotransmitter for coordinated movement. When the dopamine brain cells are destroyed, movement becomes hard to control, rigid, and stiff.

Another theory involves caffeine’s support of the blood-brain barrier. The specialized blood vessels lining this barrier keep dangerous toxins out of your brain. Scientists suspect that a leaky blood brain barrier may be linked to the destruction of dopamine brain cells.3

Now that we know caffeine may protect the brain in multiple ways, let’s see how we can get it into our diet.

Where Do You Get Your Caffeine?

Most people get their caffeine from coffee, tea or sugary drinks. Of course, we’re not big fans of sugary drinks for many obvious reasons. However, coffee and tea can be healthy options — depending on what you add to them.

The Montreal study linking caffeine intake to an improvement in Parkinson’s disease symptoms had patients taking the amount of caffeine found in about 2–4 cups of coffee.

So if you’ve ever felt bad about your coffee habit, now you have an excuse to drink several cups.

It’s comforting to know strides are being made in the area of Parkinson’s disease. It’s even better when the research shows the foods we come across every day might make a difference.

Who knew a stimulating compound as readily available as caffeine could help?

References:

  1. Neurology. 2012 Aug 14;79(7):651-8. Epub 2012 Aug 1.
  2. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20 Suppl 1:S205-20.
  3. J Alzheimers Dis. 2010;20 Suppl 1:S127-41.

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