Caffeine may protect against Parkinson’s, even among those genetically predisposed

MINNEAPOLIS — Prior research had already concluded drinking coffee may lower one’s odds of developing Parkinson’s among people with no genetic risk factors for the disease. Now, a new study finds caffeine may protect against Parkinson’s even among those with a gene mutation closely linked to the nervous system disorder.

“These results are promising and encourage future research exploring caffeine and caffeine-related therapies to lessen the chance that people with this gene develop Parkinson’s,” says study author Dr. Grace Crotty, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, in a release. “It’s also possible that caffeine levels in the blood could be used as a biomarker to help identify which people with this gene will develop the disease, assuming caffeine levels remain relatively stable.”

The gene mutation in question is called LRRK2 (leucine-rich repeat kinase 2). However, just because someone has this gene doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll develop Parkinson’s. So, the research team wanted to uncover specific environmental or other genetic factors that influence Parkinson’s onset among people with LRRK2.

A total of 188 people who had Parkinson’s disease were compared to 180 without the disease. Both of those groups contain some people with the LRRK2 gene and some without it. Caffeine levels in each person’s blood were measured, as well as other chemicals associated with caffeine digestion. Across both groups, 212 participants also filled out a series of surveys describing their daily caffeine habits.

How caffeine may offer layer of protection for people with Parkinson’s gene

Among LRRK2 carriers, those with Parkinson’s showed 76% lower levels of caffeine in their blood than participants without Parkinson’s. People with Parkinson’s but no gene mutation had a 31% lower concentration of caffeine than non-Parkinson’s patients with no gene mutation.

People with Parkinson’s and the gene mutation also tended to drink less caffeine in general. Gene-mutated Parkinson’s patients drank 41% less caffeine per day than all patients without Parkinson’s.

“We don’t know yet whether people who are predisposed to Parkinson’s may tend to avoid drinking coffee or if some mutation carriers drink a lot of coffee and benefit from its neuroprotective effects,” Crotty notes.

The research team notes that they only examined participants at one point in time. So, these findings are not indicative of caffeine’s effect on Parkinson’s risk or progression over time. These findings confirm an association between drinking coffee and lower Parkinson’s risk, not causation.

The study is published in Neurolmage.

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John Anderer

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