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Can Coffee Help Slow Parkinson’s?

New research suggests coffee can help slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Although in its early stages, tests conducted by scientists from Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School Institute for Neurological Therapeutics in New Jersey may provide new hope for the 145,000 people in the UK with Parkinson’s.

As the fastest-growing neurological condition in the world, Parkinson’s does not have a cure at present. In the UK, the highest number of cases of Parkinson’s is among 70 to 79-year-olds, where 60,083 people have been diagnosed.

Drinking coffee

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Men are 1.4 times more likely to have Parkinson’s than women. Scientists don’t know the reason why. Currently, in the UK, 78,326 men aged 50 to 89 have been diagnosed with the condition.

There are more than 40 recorded symptoms, but Parkinson’s affects everyone differently, so not everyone will experience all of them. Among the most common are tremors and sleeping problems, leaving people with the condition requiring specialist beds.

 

Latest scientific research

While medication can help control the symptoms, research is ongoing into finding a cure, as none of the current drugs can slow down the progress of Parkinson’s. The latest research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ journal.

The researchers had been investigating whether a compound called Eicosanoyl-5-Hydroxytryptamide (known as EHT) would work with caffeine to fend off Parkinson’s. EHT, a derivative of serotonin, is found in the coffee beans’ waxy coating.

The research involved giving mice doses of EHT and caffeine: some received them together, some separately. The scientists assessed each subject and whether the combination reduced the build-up of alpha-synuclein – the protein primarily found in neural tissue that is associated with Parkinson’s. When given alone, neither substance had a beneficial effect, but when given together, there was a reduction in alpha-synuclein build-up in the mice. In addition, the mice treated with the combination substance performed better in behaviour tests.

 

Complex cocktail

The results of the study have provided a fresh avenue for drugs researchers to explore. The New Jersey scientists are continuing their work and are planning to determine the exact quantities of the chemicals that will impart the maximum benefits.

Various amounts of EHT can be found in different types of coffee, so scientists are emphasising the importance of determining the appropriate amount and ratio, so people don’t take in too much caffeine, as this in itself can have a negative impact on our health.

The search for the appropriate amount of active compounds in coffee is expected to take some time. Described as a “complex cocktail”, other components potentially have a role too. Depending on where the coffee beans have been grown and the techniques used in harvesting, roasting and brewing the beans, the exact make-up of every cup of coffee varies.

 

First human trial

Following the research on mice, scientists studied the progression of Parkinson’s in 79 people who were recently diagnosed with the condition. Results suggested that people who consumed more coffee appeared to develop less motor and non-motor symptoms. It also discovered that people who drank more coffee started taking medication for Parkinson’s later than those with low coffee consumption.

The charity, Parkinson’s UK, describes the findings as “interesting”, but says more evidence from large clinical trials is needed before they can recommend drinking more coffee. There will need to be a great deal more research before scientists can fully understand the full extent of its benefits.

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