Can Caffeine Levels in Blood Predict Parkinson's?

From - January 3, 2018

Can Caffeine Levels in Blood Predict Parkinson's?

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 3, 2018 -- The way your body processes your morning cup of coffee might indicate whether or not you have Parkinson's disease, a new study says.

Japanese researchers found that low levels of caffeine were more common in people with Parkinson's disease than in those without the disorder, even if they had consumed the same amount of caffeine.

Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that mainly causes problems with motor symptoms, such as tremors or difficulty walking. Previous studies have suggested that caffeine may have a protective effect against the disease, the researchers noted.

Currently, there's no good way to diagnose early Parkinson's disease. Many of the physical symptoms can mimic those of other conditions, so it often takes six months or longer to get a diagnosis, explained James Beck, chief scientific officer at the Parkinson's Foundation.

The new study from Japan included 108 people with Parkinson's disease without obvious memory problems and 31 age-matched healthy people without the disease to serve as the control group.

After an overnight fast, everyone's blood was tested for caffeine and 11 caffeine metabolites (which metabolize caffeine).

Both groups averaged similar amounts of daily caffeine consumption -- about two cups of coffee per day. But those with Parkinson's had lower levels of caffeine and lower amounts of nine out of the 11 metabolites. People with Parkinson's had about one-third the levels of caffeine in their blood compared to the control group.

The levels of caffeine and its metabolites did not change with the severity of the disease. For example, people with more advanced disease did not have even lower levels of caffeine or its metabolites.

The researchers also recruited an additional 67 people with Parkinson's and 51 healthy people to test for alterations in genes that are known to be related to caffeine metabolism. They found no differences in these genes between the groups.

Study co-author Dr. Shinji Saiki, an associate professor at Juntendo University School of Medicine in Tokyo, said the researchers believe that caffeine is not absorbed properly in the small intestine of people with Parkinson's disease.

The researchers plan to study whether they can accurately detect Parkinson's disease before symptoms, or in the very earliest stage of symptoms, using caffeine and its metabolites.

Mark Frasier, senior vice president of research programs at the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, said, "I think this study is very intriguing. We need ways to measure and diagnose Parkinson's disease."

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