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My love for coffee has led me to wonderful and amazing discoveries about this bittersweet drink. Back when I was just 16, I drank coffee just to keep me awake as I endured the sleepless nights of thesis year.

Over the years, I’ve heard different stories about coffee. Some people have “horrific” experiences with coffee, swearing that they will never ever drink it again. Others seem to enjoy drinking coffee, but they only want to drink the labeled ones. If you give them brewed coffee, they think it’s bland.

Still, there are others who say that coffee is beneficial to health and that in some cases, a cup of joe can help reduce the risk of life-threatening diseases. Now, that’s a whole new level of coffee education, right?

Through research and reading news articles, I learned that coffee can reduce the risk of liver diseases, cancer, diabetes, and heart-related problems. Moderate consumption of coffee can also help manage weight and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

This is an interesting point because Parkinson’s is not a very popular disease, like cancer and diabetes. Let’s see how coffee helps in reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

According to the National Parkinson Foundation, the disease is a neurodegenerative brain disorder. It is not detected easily. Symptoms take years to develop and patients can live for several years with the disease.

When a person has Parkinson’s disease (PD), the person’s brain stopped producing dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Without dopamine, the person will lose the ability to regulate their body movements and emotions.

PD is not fatal, but the complications are serious and life-threatening. In the United States, the complications related to PD are listed as the 14th top causes of death, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Europe, almost 1.2 million people are estimated to have PD, with about 75,000 new cases diagnosed every year. Elderly people are prone to developing PD, mostly those at age 60; but, it is estimated that one in ten people are diagnosed before the age of 50, with slightly more men than women affected

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s. Your doctor’s goal will be to treat your symptoms to keep your quality of life as high as possible.

Stages of Parkinson’s Disease

  • Stage One: During this initial stage, the person has mild symptoms that generally do not interfere with daily activities. Tremor and other movement symptoms occur on one side of the body only. Friends and family may notice changes in posture, walking, and facial expressions.
  • Stage Two: In stage two of Parkinson’s, the symptoms start getting worse. Tremor, rigidity and other movement symptoms affect both sides of the body. Walking problems and poor posture may become apparent. In this stage, the person is still able to live alone, but completing day-to-day tasks becomes more difficult and may take longer.
  • Stage Three: Stage three is considered mid-stage in the progression of the disease. Loss of balance and slowness of movements are hallmarks of this phase. Falls are more common. Though the person is still fully independent, symptoms significantly impair activities of daily living such as dressing and eating.
  • Stage Four: During this stage of Parkinson’s, symptoms are severe and very limiting. It’s possible to stand without assistance, but movement may require a walker. The person needs help with activities of daily living and is unable to live alone.
  • Stage Five: This is the most advanced and debilitating stage of Parkinson’s disease. Stiffness in the legs may make it impossible to stand or walk. The person requires a wheelchair or is bedridden. Around-the-clock nursing care is required for all activities. The person may experience hallucinations and delusions. While stage five focuses on motor symptoms, the Parkinson’s community acknowledges that there are many important non-motor symptoms as well.

Coffee and Parkinson’s disease: study findings

A review of 304,980 participants in the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study suggested that higher caffeine intake was associated with subsequent lower PD risk in both men and women. The authors conducted an analysis of prospective studies and confirmed that caffeine intake did not increase the risk of PD, rather it showed a significant decrease in PD risk in both men and women. There was no gender difference in the relation between caffeine intake and PD. Both men and women could benefit from coffee to reduce the risk of PD.

Researchers were eager to understand how coffee reduces the risk of PD. What ingredient in coffee is responsible for this effect? Experimental studies were conducted to identify a mechanism of action for coffee’s positive effect in preventing the development of PD.

They found that low doses of caffeine blocked the adenosine A2A receptors which are located in the striatum, the area of the brain responsible for the control of locomotion and movement. Remember, most PD patients lose dopamine and locomotion skills and movement is impaired. With the blockade of the A2A receptors, the brain produces enough dopamine to support movement even if the person is at the critical age risk for PD.

The research findings indicated that higher coffee and caffeine intake is associated with a significantly lower incidence of PD. Furthermore, the effect is mostly associated with caffeine and not with any other ingredient in coffee.

Meanwhile, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School Alberto Ascherio has been studying coffee’s potential anti-Parkinson’s effects after reading earlier findings. As a result, the study done by Ascherio’s team showed that drinking four or five cups of coffee daily cut the risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease nearly in half, compared with little or no caffeine consumption. The study was published in the journal Annals of Neurology, entitled “Prospective study of caffeine consumption and risk of Parkinson’s disease in men and women.”

What do these study results specifically mean for patients? The benefit from drinking coffee is real. Findings show that 100 mg to 200 mg of caffeine, taken twice daily, have a significant effect in preventing the risk of PD. However, researchers noted that since it’s the caffeine in coffee that gives the benefit, there are other sources of caffeine. Tea and soft drinks also have caffeine content. Moreover, most researchers did not examine higher dosages of caffeine. The greatest amount of reported intake among the studies conducted was six cups of coffee in a day. However, they warned that excessive intake of coffee can produce other effects and can vary from one person to another.

Another interesting point is that tolerance to caffeine is observed among the participants. Meaning, after several cups of coffee taken on a daily basis, the effects of caffeine may not be as pronounced as the first time they drank coffee.

Nonetheless, the most significant contribution of these studies is the fact that the findings on the beneficial effect of caffeine can spur the development of new drugs that will help in advancing the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Caffeine in coffee is the active ingredient that provides the strongest link between coffee and reducing the risk of Parkinson’s disease.  However, the exact amount of consumption has yet to be confirmed. This leads us to the safest answer: always drink in moderation. Most of the studies suggest that two cups of coffee per day will be good enough to provide the caffeine requirement.