The six-week study of 61 people with the neurodegenerative disorder found that caffeine did not make them less sleepy during the day, but it did make them feel better overall.
MONTREAL – Coffee lovers rejoice: A new study is touting yet another health benefit to caffeine, albeit one restricted to those who have Parkinson’s disease.
Research by Montreal neurologist Ronald Postuma has found that consuming a moderate amount of caffeine daily — the equivalent of up to three cups of coffee — can ease some of the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s while improving speed of movement.
Postuma and his colleagues initially sought to study whether caffeine could reverse the effects of daytime sleepiness in patients with Parkinson’s. The six-week study of 61 people with the neurodegenerative disorder found that caffeine did not make them less sleepy during the day, but it did make them feel better overall.
“When we looked at sleepiness, it changed a little bit, but it wasn’t really significant,” Postuma explained in an interview Wednesday.
“Basically, it looks like caffeine does something to sleepiness (for those with Parkinson’s) but not much.
“But what we found that is perhaps more interesting is that it treated the motor symptoms of the disease. Parkinson’s is mainly associated with stiffness, slowness and difficulty moving as well as tremors, and all of that improved.”
The results of the study were published in Wednesday’s online issue of the journal Neurology. Postuma’s research builds on other studies that have suggested that people who consume caffeine are less likely to develop Parkinson’s. It’s estimated that about 100,000 Canadians suffer from Parkinson’s.
Dr. Michael Schwarzschild, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, stopped short of endorsing caffeine as an actual treatment for Parkinson’s, but he did praise the study in an accompanying editorial.
“The study is especially interesting since caffeine seems to block a malfunctioning brain signal in Parkinson’s disease and is so safe and inexpensive. Although the results do not suggest that caffeine should be used as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease, they can be taken into consideration when people with Parkinson’s are discussing their caffeine use with their neurologist.”
For the study, the 61 patients were divided into two groups: those who took a sugar pill and those who took a pill with 100 milligrams of caffeine two times a day for three weeks, then 200 milligrams twice a day for three weeks.
After six weeks, the half that consumed the caffeine averaged a five-point improvement in Parkinson’s severity ratings compared with those who were on the placebo or sugar pill. The caffeine group also average a three-point improvement in their speed of movement and amount of stiffness.
“We’ve got all kinds of Parkinson’s patients who have been convinced that coffee is bad for them and they’ve stopped taking it, and this is probably incorrect,” said Postuma, of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. “There is absolutely no evidence that caffeine at moderate doses is bad for you.”
He cautioned, however, that his study confirmed a short-term benefit, and more research needs to be carried out to determine whether the positive effects of caffeine wear off over time.
Caffeine, which can be found in tea and soft drinks to varying degrees, has long been associated with higher blood pressure. But a number of studies have recently discovered that it has some health benefits. In May, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that men who drank six or more cups of coffee a day had a 10-per-cent lower risk of death than those who didn’t.