Caffeine Has an Intriguing Effect on The Brains of Parkinson’s Patients

A new study by the University of Turku and Turku University Hospital in Finland has found that drinking more than three cups of coffee a day affects dopamine levels in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease. The research, led by a team from the University of Turku and Turku University Hospital, fills a knowledge gap on how coffee consumption affects people already diagnosed with and showing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease symptoms arise with the marked loss of dopamine-producing cells in the substantia nigra brain region. Previous studies have suggested that drinking coffee can reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s, and that caffeine’s effects on receptors in the nigrostriatal dopamine system could be involved. However, this study is the first to focus on the effects of caffeine on disease progression and symptoms in relation to dopamine function in Parkinson’s disease.

The researchers recruited 163 people with early-stage Parkinson’s and 40 healthy controls, with 44 participants with Parkinson’s called in for a second assessment that was, on average, six years later. In follow-up assessments, those who typically consumed three or more cups of caffeinated coffee a day showed 8.3 to 15.4% lower dopamine transporter binding than those who drank fewer than three cups. This means less dopamine being produced.

The researchers believe that the downregulation of dopamine seen in high coffee consumers is the same balancing out effect that happens in the brains of healthy individuals. Consuming coffee within a close period to clinical dopamine transporter imaging could affect the test’s results, potentially adding complications to how they’re interpreted.

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