A Cup of Joe for What Ails You

Caffeine helps Parkinsons disease patients control motor symptoms in recent study

(RxWiki News) Could treatment for Parkinson’s disease (PD) be as easy as a cup of coffee? Caffeine will not cure PD but a recent study shows that it may ease the motor symptoms such as tremor, rigidity and slowness of movement that characterize the disease. 

A recent study published in the August issue of Neurology examines the use of caffeine on PD.

The results did not show caffeine to help with daytime sleepiness in patients with PD, however, it is the first of its kind to demonstrate that caffeine can help with movement symptoms.

"Ask your doctor if caffeine is right for you."

Lead author, Ronald Postuma, MD, MSc, of McGill University in Montreal and the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Center and team, conducted a six week randomized controlled trial of 61 people with PD.

Participants were either given a placebo for six weeks or 100 milligrams of caffeine two times a day for three weeks, then 200 milligrams twice a day for three weeks. The dispensed caffeine dosage resembled normal caffeine intake patterns in the population of two and four cups of coffee per day.

After six weeks, the caffeine group was given 100 mg of caffeine twice a day for one week to minimize any withdrawal symptoms. After the study, patients continued with their normal PD medication and caffeine intake.

The patients were given a variety of questionnaires, including the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS) and the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS). The ESS measures daytime sleepiness and is used to diagnose sleep disorders while the UPDRS determines the severity of PD symptoms in a patient.

The use of caffeine was not shown to make a significant difference to patients on the Epworth Sleepiness Scale.

However, there was a five point improvement on the UPDRS, and a three-point improvement in the speed of movement and amount of stiffness at both caffeine dosage levels.

While this improvement is modest, it is still beneficial. A five point UPDRS reduction would delay diagnosis for about six months.

These are interesting details, as previous studies have shown that people who use caffeine are less likely to develop PD.

The study is not without its limitations, including the brevity of the treatment. Over time a person builds tolerance to caffeine and a higher dosage could be required.

The study was supported by the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Webster Foundation.

Dr. Postuma is a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

The authors report no conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
July 24, 2012
Last Updated:
April 11, 2013