Emerging Research: Using Caffeine to Detect Early Parkinson's Disease

Last updated: June 2018

For people with Parkinson’s disease (PD), early diagnosis can lead to better health outcomes. If detected sooner, early PD treatments (such as physical therapy and exercise) can delay disease progression, preserve neuromotor abilities, and reduce PD symptoms.1,2 Although early diagnosis is important, the most obvious PD symptoms (like motor changes) often occur during later stages of the disease, leading many patients to be diagnosed after their disease has already progressed.2

Due to the importance of early treatment, many Parkinson’s researchers are looking for ways to detect and diagnose PD in the earliest stages of the disease. These researchers study biomarkers, which are biological signs of a disease that are detected in the blood, urine, or spinal fluid.3 In a study published this January, new research shows that caffeine levels in the blood may be a biomarker for Parkinson’s disease. In other words, caffeine could be used as a detection tool for early PD.4

What is the relationship between caffeine and PD?

Caffeine may play a role in the development and treatment of Parkinson’s disease. For example, studies show that daily caffeine consumption (such as drinking coffee, tea, or soda) can reduce the risk of PD, especially in men.4 In one study, people who drank more than 4 cups of coffee per day were five times less likely to develop PD.5 While these studies do not prove that caffeine prevents PD, caffeine may decrease a person’s risk of developing the condition, likely by blocking certain adenosine receptors in the body.4,5 In other studies, PD patients also experienced improved motor abilities after six weeks of caffeine treatments.1

Caffeine as a biomarker for early PD

While previous research shows that caffeine may influence the development and treatment of PD, could caffeine levels in the blood also be used to detect PD? To further understand the impacts of caffeine, researchers conducted a new study to determine if caffeine levels in the blood could indicate early Parkinson’s disease. The results were published on January 3rd, 2018. 4

During the study, researchers collected blood samples from both PD patients and non-PD patients. Even though all of the study participants consumed the same amount of caffeine per day, the blood samples showed that PD patients had significantly lower levels of caffeine in the blood than the non-PD patients.4 These results suggest that people with PD do not absorb caffeine as effectively as people without PD. Therefore, in the future, caffeine levels could be used as a test to detect early Parkinson’s disease, making caffeine a biomarker for early PD. 4

Other emerging research

Currently, researchers all over the world are looking for potential biomarkers of Parkinson’s disease. Like caffeine levels in the blood, other biomarkers may include color vision loss, restless leg syndrome, and mild cognitive impairment.3 While future studies are needed to understand the effects of caffeine on PD development, treatment, and diagnosis, new research suggests that this biomarker could be a powerful tool in early PD detection and treatment.5 To learn more about new PD development, visit our page on emerging research or connect with the PD community.

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