The way your body processes caffeine could be an early indicator of Parkinson’s disease.
A recent study by Japanese researchers may be the first step in a new way to detect and diagnose Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition that slowly restricts motor function. As the condition attacks the central nervous system symptoms of tremors, spasms and stiffness increase leaving sufferers immobile. Parkinson’s usually doesn’t present with symptoms until later in life. Most people are diagnosed with the condition well into their forties or fifties, and even then, the disease is incredibly difficult to diagnose. Diagnosis of Parkinson’s can take at minimum about six months. Early detection and treatment are important, so researchers are constantly at work trying to find ways to identify the disease earlier with more precision. The answer to early detection of Parkinson’s just might be in your morning cup of joe.
This new study found that people with Parkinson’s disease most commonly had lower levels of caffeine than people without the condition. The differences in caffeine levels were tested after both test groups consumed the same amount of caffeine. Although there has been a previous study that suggests caffeine consumption could protect against the disease, the important thing to remember about these early studies is that the information discovered is the start to a better understanding of the disease, not final conclusions.
The researchers of the Juntendo University School of Medicine in Tokyo used over 100 patients with Parkinson’s and about 30 people who had not been diagnosed with the condition for their study. All of the participants reported regular daily consumption of about two cups of coffee each day. When tested, Parkinson’s sufferers’ caffeine levels were only about one-third of the levels in patients without the condition.
The theory proposed is that people with Parkinson’s disease don’t absorb caffeine in their small intestine the way people without the condition absorbs it. If further testing can support this theory, Parkinson’s could be diagnosed before the presentation of early symptoms by testing the absorption of caffeine and present caffeine metabolites.
“Early detection of Parkinson’s could change the way the condition is treated and could lead to methods of prevention.”
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The next steps going forward will be to repeat the study on larger and more diverse groups of subjects to ensure the validity of the initial results. Once researchers can confirm that the results can be replicated, next testing will need to be done to ensure the results are isolated to Parkinson’s disease. Because similar neurodegenerative conditions like ALS and MS have similar symptoms and attack the same areas of the body, testing will need to be done to ensure the reaction to caffeine isn’t common to all of the conditions. This discovery would be beneficial to all neurodegenerative conditions but it wouldn’t simplify the Parkinson’s diagnosis process and wouldn’t help to achieve the goal of early detection.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is excited about this study and the changes it could propose to detection, prevention, and diagnosis of the condition. They plan to use the extensive data they have collected thus far in combination with the findings of this study to hopefully replicate the results with a larger population. There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease, and current medications can only manage the symptoms, but at the moment nothing has been proven to effectively slow the progression of symptoms across all patients. Early detection of Parkinson’s could change the way the condition is treated and could lead to methods of prevention. Check the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research for more information about these advancements and plans for further research.