Caffeine could be an early identifier of Parkinson’s disease, researchers at Juntendo University in Japan have found.
A team of researchers led by Nobutaka Hattori from Juntendo University School of Medicine have studied how traces of caffeine in the blood after drinking coffee can be indicative of Parkinson’s disease.
The findings, published in Neurology, suggest a “promising development” for early detection of the debilitating condition.
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system, affecting the latter’s motor system — the part controlling bodily motion. Its symptoms include shaking, rigidity and difficulty with walking.
The researchers studied a group of 139 people, with and without Parkinson’s disease. Each person drank between 0 and five cups of coffee per day. The participants’ blood serum was then checked for traces of caffeine and its downstream metabolites, small molecules produced during caffeine-induced metabolic processes in the human body.
The researchers found that caffeine levels are significantly lower in patients with the disease. Caffeine concentrations could therefore be used as marker of Parkinson’s, particularly in its early stages.
Juntendo University says the cause of Parkinson’s disease is unclear, but it is believed that genetic and environmental factors play a role.
Daily caffeine consumption has been shown to reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, especially in men, in women not taking hormone replacement therapy — caffeine’s neuroprotective effect, and people who drink tea.
These findings inspired Nobutaka and his colleagues to check whether caffeine levels in the blood and levels of the byproducts (metabolites) that caffeine intake causes, can be used as biomarkers for the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
“They found that this is indeed the case,” says Juntendo University in a statement.
Following caffeine intake, the levels of caffeine and its metabolites in the blood serum are lower for people with Parkinson’s, independent of the stage of the disease, implying that these levels could be used as biomarkers for the disease in the early stage.