Coffee and Parkinson's Disease

by Celeste E. Williams

Guess what? Drinking coffee may potentially be good for you. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that caffeine may prevent the development of Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease, a neurological disorder brought to national attention by such celebrities as Muhammad Ali, Michael J. Fox, and former United States Attorney General Janet Reno, is characterized by muscle tremor, slow movement, and weakness; a result of dopamine deficiency. Dopamine acts as the messenger between nerve cells. The exact cause of Parkinson's is still unknown. It affects people worldwide with the average age of onset at around 55. Ten per cent of people with Parkinson's disease will acquire it before age 50, and these people may give a higher risk to first-degree relatives for developing Parkinson's as well.

With such a dismal prognosis, and no known way to prevent it, this new finding about caffeine seems to offer some help. The study in JAMA involved more than 8,000 Japanese-American men with an average age of 53 over the course of 30 years. After analysis of detailed dietary records, it was found that those who did not drink coffee were three times more likely to develop Parkinson's disease. Those men who drank 28 ounces, three to four cups or more, however, were one-fifth less likely to develop the disease.

Similarly, a study at the Harvard School of Public Health involving approximately 135,000 people of mixed demographics demonstrated that men who drank four to five cups of coffee daily cut their risk of developing Parkinson's almost in half. Further research is needed to determine if the same is true for women.

The one downside to this new finding? The caffeine seems to be coffee specific. Sorry, no excuses here for chocolate lovers or Coca-Cola fiends to stock up. But don't over do it with the java either. Too much coffee can adversely affect you - you could run the risk of restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, frequent urination, gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, or irregular heartbeats.

So the next time you are having your favorite latte, know that it not only tastes good, but it just may be good for you as well.

© 2001 Celeste E. Williams


Celeste E. Williams, M.D., is a board certified OB/GYN, Dr. Williams is a fellow of the American Board of OB/GYN.



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