Parkinson's Disease and Coffee

By Jerilyn Watson

This is Bill White with the VOA Special English Science Report.

Scientists say people who drink a lot of coffee may be less likely than others to develop the brain disorder called Parkinson's disease. The Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported a possible connection between the disease and caffeine. Caffeine is in coffee, tea and many soft drinks.

The medical publication reported on a study of about eight-thousand Japanese-American men in the American state of Hawaii. The study lasted thirty years. G. Webster Ross of the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Honolulu led the research.

The study found that the men who drank the most coffee were the least likely to develop Parkinson's disease. The report says men who drank about five cups of coffee a day were five times less likely to develop Parkinson's than men who did not drink coffee. However, the researchers say that they do not know if these results would also be true among women and other ethnic groups.

Millions of people around the world suffer from Parkinson's Disease. The disease involves the destruction of nerve cells in the brain that produce the chemical dopamine. Dopamine helps control muscle movements. Signs of the disease include uncontrolled shaking, difficulty moving muscles and loss of balance. Mental problems also can result. The effects get worse over time. Patients become unable to care for themselves.

The disease usually affects people over fifty-five years of age. But some are younger, like American television actor Michael J. Fox. Mr. Fox discovered he had the disease eight years ago, when he was thirty years old.

Doctor Ross says there are several possible reasons why caffeine seems to prevent Parkinson's disease. He suggests that caffeine might somehow protect against the nerve-cell destruction that causes the disease. He says caffeine might increase dopamine levels. Or it might treat some of the early signs of the disease, making it difficult to recognize those signs. Or people who drink a lot of coffee may have a kind of brain chemistry that makes them less likely to develop the disease. But Doctor Ross says it is too early to suggest coffee as a prevention or treatment for Parkinson's disease. He says more studies are needed. And he says too much coffee can be bad for health.

This VOA Special English Science Report was written by Jerilyn Watson. This is Bill White.