Parkinson's disease: Can caffeine help lower risk?

Evan Walker
Evan Walker TheMediTary.Com |
disposable cup of coffee, coffee splashing out of cupShare on Pinterest
Caffeine could help cut Parkinson’s risk, at least in some populations. Image credit: Toma Evsuvdo/Stocksy.
  • More than 10 million people globally live with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Between 10% and 15% of all Parkinson’s disease cases are caused by genetics factors.
  • New research from the National Neuroscience Institute in Singapore says drinking tea and coffee containing caffeine can significantly reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease in Asian individuals who are genetically at higher risk.

More than 10 million people around the world have Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder affecting the body’s central nervous system.

There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease. While it is still not clear exactly what causes the condition, the general consensus among researchers is that it occurs through a combination of both genetic and environmental factors.

Between 10% and 15% of all Parkinson’s cases are caused by genetic factors.

Now, a new study from the National Neuroscience Institute in Singapore says that drinking tea and coffee containing caffeine can significantly reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease in Asian individuals who are genetically at higher risk.

This study was recently published in the journal The Lancet.

For this study, researchers recruited 4,488 participants who all of whom had one of two variants of the LRRK2 gene that are specific to individuals from East Asian populations, or another variant that is found predominantly in East Asian populations.

“Two of the genetic coding variants are associated with [a] 1.5-2 [times higher] risk in Parkinson’s disease and are Asian-specific,” Dr. Tan Eng King, deputy chief executive officer of academic affairs and senior consultant in the Department of Neurology at the National Neuroscience Institute, principal investigator of this study, explained for Medical News Today.

All study participants were asked to complete a validated caffeine intake questionnaire. The average caffeine intake of the study participants was 448.3 milligrams (mg) among those with Parkinson’s disease, and 473.0 mg in the healthy control group.

Upon analysis, researchers found that participants with the gene variant linked to Parkinson’s disease who regularly consume caffeine have a four to eight times lower risk of developing the disease compared to those who do not imbibe caffeine.

“[We were] not surprised by the risk reduction as caffeine has been previously shown to be able to reduce Parkinson’s risk, but [were] surprised by the magnitude of risk reduction in the carriers of the Asian gene variants since these variants are associated with two times increased risk of Parkinson’s,” Dr. King said.

Genetically derived Parkinson’s disease occurs either through a mutation of a certain gene or a gene that is passed down through generations.

Mutations of the leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK2) gene are the most common cause of familial Parkinson’s disease.

“The LRRK2 (leucine-rich repeat kinase 2) gene plays a significant role in the development of Parkinson’s disease, especially in familial and some sporadic cases of the disease,” Dr. Daniel Truong, neurologist and medical director of the Truong Neuroscience Institute at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Clinical Parkinsonism and Related Disorders — who was not involved in this study — explained to MNT.

“Understanding the LRRK2 gene’s function and its mutations’ effects is crucial for developing targeted therapies and drugs that could potentially slow, stop, or reverse the progression of Parkinson’s disease,” he added. “There is ongoing research to uncover more about its role and develop strategies for intervention and treatment.”

Additionally, some ethnic groups are more likely to carry Parkinson’s disease-related genes.

According to Dr. Truong, the LRRK2 gene mutation is more commonly seen in individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish and North African Arab Berber descent.

“While these mutations can occur in any population, they are less common in Asian and European populations,” he continued. “The prevalence and type of LRRK2 mutations can vary significantly among different ethnic and geographic groups.”

“These population-specific prevalence rates are crucial for targeted genetic screening, research, and the development of treatment strategies tailored to the genetic and environmental factors influencing Parkinson’s disease within these populations,” Dr. Truong added. “It’s also a significant aspect of personalized medicine, where treatment and prevention strategies are customized to the individual’s genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.”

Dr. King and his colleagues believe their findings may lead to a lifestyle change to help potentially prevent Parkinson’s disease from developing.

Lifestyle modifications provide an opportunity for noninvasive and nondrug intervention, which not only carry no or minimal risk but can lead to other health benefits as part of the holistic approach [to] managing patients with chronic neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. We plan to expand our epidemiological studies to examine other modifiable factors and to further validate our current findings in the laboratory.”

– Dr. Tan Eng King

Dr. Truong added that lifestyle modifications — including diet, physical activity, stress management, social engagement, and quality sleep — can play a significant role in reducing the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, especially for individuals who are genetically predisposed.

“While it is impossible to change one’s genetic makeup, lifestyle adjustments can help to mitigate the impact of risk factors,” he added.

“For individuals genetically at high risk, understanding their predisposition can serve as a motivator to adopt a Healthier lifestyle, which can not only mitigate the risk of Parkinson’s disease, but also contribute to better overall Health and well-being. Each person’s risk and situation are unique, so it’s always best to consult with a Healthcare professional for personalized advice and strategies,” advised Dr. Truong.

Caffeine is a natural substance that can be found in more than 60 plants, such as coffee beans, cacao beans, and tea leaves. It is a stimulant, which means it can speed up the activity of the brain and nervous system.

Caffeine is usually consumed through beverage containing this substance, such as coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks. However, caffeine can also be found in other dietary staples, such as energy bars, chocolate, ice cream, and workout supplements.

Consuming up to 400 mg of caffeine each day is considered harmless for most people. Too much caffeine can lead to health issues, such as insomnia, headaches, dizziness, and anxiety.

On the positive side, previous studies show that caffeine may provide protection against certain diseases, including type 2 diabetes, depression, and heart disease.

Past research also shows caffeine may offer protection against the development of Parkinson’s disease.

Research published in June 2020 found that people who consumed caffeine had a significantly lower risk of Parkinson’s disease and a significantly lower rate of disease progression.

And a study published in December 2018 discovered two components of coffee — one of which is caffeine — may help protect against both Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

Share this Article