Caffeine—everyone’s favorite stimulant—has been shown in past studies to help prevent Parkinson’s disease.
Now new research shows that it may do even more than we previously thought.
It may also help people who already have Parkinson’s.
If you or a loved one is coping with this progressive motor disorder, which can cause slow movement, muscle stiffness, shaking and balance problems, grab a coffee mug.
CAFFEINE JOLT EASES SYMPTOMS
When I first heard about this research, I wondered whether it mattered where the caffeine came from (coffee? tea? chocolate?) and how much was needed to see relief. I got some answers…
In the study, scientists split Parkinson’s patients into two groups. One group received a placebo pill, while the other took a 100-milligram (mg) caffeine pill twice a day for three weeks and then a 200-mg caffeine pill twice a day for another three weeks. (To give you an idea of how much caffeine that is, one eight-ounce cup of coffee contains roughly 100 mg of caffeine.) Many participants had already been consuming caffeine before the study—up to a maximum of 200 mg (two eight-ounce cups of coffee) per day. They were allowed to maintain their prior habits throughout the study as long as they didn’t change their intake amounts.
Results: Debilitating symptoms such as stiffness and slow movement were reduced by 10% to 15% among those taking the caffeine pills, whereas the placebo group saw no significant symptom relief. More good news: Many of those taking the caffeine noticed improvements within the first few days of the study. Both doses worked about equally well, and neither dose increased patients’ bothersome tremors, as you might have expected.
What’s at play here? Caffeine likely blocks a brain receptor called adenosine-2A, which may contribute to some Parkinson’s symptoms, said lead researcher Ron Postuma, MD.
A SUPPLEMENT, NOT A REPLACEMENT
Despite this promising finding, however, caffeine’s effects aren’t so strong that it can replace Parkinson’s drugs, Dr. Postuma cautioned. But, if you have Parkinson’s, caffeine could be a helpful supplement to whatever medication you’re on, he said.
Dr. Postuma said that caffeine in any form—including pills, coffee, tea or chocolate—is likely to work the same way. (And flavors, sweeteners or creams mixed with the caffeinated beverages won’t reduce its effect.)
So how much caffeine should you consume per day if you have Parkinson’s? Dr. Postuma said that the research is too preliminary for him to give a specific recommendation, but study subjects benefited by consuming up to a total of 400 mg (four eight-ounce cups) per day from both pills and any coffee that they already drank. (If you already drink four or more eight-ounce cups of coffee a day, it’s unknown whether consuming extra caffeine will help.)
Most Parkinson’s patients should have no problem consuming up to 400 mg of caffeine, said Dr. Postuma. If you’re worried that it might stop you from sleeping, be sure to have your last “dose” no later than early afternoon. If you have heart rhythm problems, uncontrolled high blood pressure or ulcers, talk to your doctor before consuming any caffeine.
Dr. Postuma would like to eventually study the long-term effects of caffeine on Parkinson’s—which are still unknown—and determine whether consuming caffeine might help Parkinson’s patients take less medication. A 200-mg caffeine pill costs about seven cents, he noted, while new Parkinson’s drugs typically cost between $3,000 and $5,000 per year. “Caffeine is incredibly low-cost and could save patients lots of money,” he said. “It’s also extremely well-tolerated, so it has great potential.”