Drinking Coffee Can Help Prevent This Unexpected Disease

As well-loved as coffee is, it has also been associated with a dark side. From sleep disorders to elevated stress levels to anxiety and coffee dependence, science has found evidence as to why regular consumption of this pick-me-up beverage might not be all that great. And when it comes to disease, experts believe that some people should rethink their morning cup of coffee – for example, people who have an overactive bladder or digestive issues, are on certain medications, or have anxiety or depression. Caffeine is only going to exacerbate their symptoms or the side effects of the medications they're taking. 

But apparently, there's one disease that might actually benefit from coffee consumption: Parkinson's disease. According to a 2023 study published in The Lancet, drinking coffee was associated with mitigating the risk of Parkinson's in Asian subjects who were at high risk of developing this neurological disorder. Parkinson's disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that results in brain neurons breaking down or dying. The consequent loss of neurons causes dopamine levels to decrease. This leads to a host of movement-related and other symptoms, some of which aren't present at the earliest stages, like tremors in your hands and fingers, bradykinesia (slowed movement), muscle stiffness, balance issues, poor posture, being unable to blink and smile, soft, quick, or slurred speech, and writing-related challenges. So, how exactly does coffee prevent all of this?

Coffee's role in preventing Parkinson's

The 2023 study involved 4,488 participants, all of whom had a variant of the LRRK2 gene that put them at a higher risk for 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," explained Dr. Daniel Truong, neurologist and medical director of the Truong Neuroscience Institute at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California (via Medical News Today).

After analyzing the participant's self-reported average intake of caffeine, researchers found that non-caffeine-drinkers had an increased risk of Parkinson's disease compared to carriers who were caffeine-drinkers. 

Coffee's preventative powers in relation to PD have been studied before, all the way back to 1968, to be specific. For example, a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience seemed to suggest that caffeine offers protection against dopamine degeneration. There is also some science that points toward coffee's gut-brain axis benefits and how the stimulant can protect your brain cells from inflammation and damage. Interestingly, while researching the health conditions coffee can help prevent, science has also delved into randomized controlled trials (considered the most highly regarded form of scientific study) involving people with PD to see if the beverage can help treat some of the symptoms associated with the disease. Here's what happened.

Can caffeine help treat Parkinson's disease?

A 2012 six-week randomized controlled trial (via Neurology) found that a group of participants who started by consuming one cup of coffee twice a day (100 milligrams of caffeine) and moved on to consuming two cups of coffee twice a day (200 milligrams of caffeine) saw significant improvement in their Parkinson's disease symptoms in as soon as three weeks. However, a different randomized controlled study done over a longer timeframe, published in 2021, didn't yield the same results (per Neurology). It is possible that the studies reflect caffeine's tachyphylactic effect, meaning it tends to wane in effectiveness the longer you consume it.

Even so, some research suggests that there could be an adenosine A2A receptor-antagonizing effect brought on by caffeine consumption that could reduce Parkinsonian motor symptoms. Adenosine A2A receptors are located close to your brain's dopamine receptors in the basal ganglia. Caffeine could halt the protein alpha-synuclein misfolding and clumping together in the brain to form Lewy bodies, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Chemical Information and Modeling. Lewy bodies cause Parkinson's-related symptoms, particularly movements, by blocking dopamine production and transmission.  

However, it must be said that scientists are divided when it comes to the research, with some claiming that more needs to be uncovered before drawing definitive conclusions. For now, perhaps we can rest in the knowledge that researchers are continuing to provide answers to everything you wanted to know about coffee