Debbie Nicholson

Researchers demonstrate caffeine just may help some Parkinson’s disease movement symptoms

Caffeine has been associated to health benefits including cutting the risk for developing Parkinson’s disease. Now caffeine may have other benefits when it comes to Parkinson’s disease as researchers find it just may help with movement symptoms.

View slideshow: Treatment of Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s disease e is the most common of the major movement disorders, a category of conditions in which a malfunction in the nervous system affects communication between the brain and the muscles. Other common movement disorders include dystonia, characterized by involuntary muscle spasms, and essential tremor, a neurological condition in which part of the body shakes or trembles according to Stanford University Medical Center.

According to the National Institutes of Health, Parkinson's affects at least 500,000 people in the United States, and some estimates put the number much higher; the Parkinson's Disease Foundation estimates that as many as 1.5 million people and over are affected.

Dr. Ronald Postuma, lead author of the study, a researcher in neurosciences at the RI MUHC, and Professor of Medicine in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University stated "This is one of the first studies to show the benefits of caffeine on motor impairment in people who have Parkinson's disease.” "Research has already shown that people who drink coffee have a lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease, but until now no study had looked at the immediate clinical implications of this finding."

In this study 61 people with Parkinson’s disease and displayed symptoms of daytime sleepiness and some motor symptoms had participated. Participants had either received one of two pills; a placebo or a pill containing 100 milligrams of caffeine twice daily for a period of three weeks and then 200 milligrams twice daily for three weeks which was equal to between two to four cups of coffee each day.

After six weeks those who received the caffeine supplements averaged a five point improvement in Parkinson’s severity ratings compared to those on the placebo. "This was due to improvement in speed of movement and a reduction in stiffness,” says Dr. Postuma. Noting that on the other hand, it may not be sufficient to explain the association between caffeine non-use and Parkinson’s “since studies of the progression of Parkinson's symptoms early in the disease suggest that a five-point reduction would delay diagnosis by only six months.”

The participants who received the caffeine also showed on average a three-point improvement in the speed of movement and amount of stiffness in comparison to the placebo group. However, caffeine did not show improvements in daytime sleepiness and no changes in quality of life, depression or sleep quality.

Caffeine should be explored as a treatment option for Parkinson's disease. It may be useful as a supplement to medication and could therefore help reduce patient dosages," concluded Dr. Postuma.

Dr. Michael Schwarzschild, MD, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who wrote an accompanying editorial, said "Although the results do not suggest that caffeine should be used as a treatment in Parkinson's disease, they can be taken into consideration when people with Parkinson's are discussing their caffeine use with their neurologist." Dr. Schwarzschild is a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

This new study was published August 1, 2012, in the online issue of Neurology®.

For more information on Parkinson's disease online visit National Parkinson's Foundation.