CTVNews.ca Staff Published Wednesday, August 1, 2012 2:01PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, August 1, 2012 5:02PM EDT
Drinking caffeine each day might help Parkinson’s patients move a little easier, making their walking more fluid and improving their quality of life, new Canadian research has found.
The researchers say the improvements are small, but their research suggests there’s something about caffeine that blocks malfunctioning brain signals in Parkinson’s patients.
The finding was a surprising one and came during a study to test caffeine as a treatment for daytime sleepiness among Parkinson’s patients. Though it didn’t do much for keeping fatigue at bay, it did seem to help with movement.
Bull Dog Coffee owner Stuart Ross displays a fancy cappuccino he created in Toronto on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008. (Nathan Denette / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The study looked at 61 people with Parkinson’s disease with symptoms of daytime sleepiness as well as the tremors, rigidity and slow movement that marks the brain disease.
The volunteers were given either a placebo pill or a pill with 100 milligrams of caffeine, twice a day for three weeks. The dose was then bumped up to 200 milligrams twice a day for three weeks -- the equivalent of between two and four cups of coffee per day.
The researchers report in the journal Neurology that the caffeine didn’t really help improve sleepiness. But it did help with some Parkinson’s symptoms.
After the six weeks of study, the patients who had taken the caffeine saw an improvement of about five points in Parkinson’s severity ratings, compared to those who didn’t take the caffeine.
The caffeine group also averaged a three-point improvement in the speed of movement and amount of stiffness, compared to the placebo group.
Though the improvements were small, they were enough that patients noticed them, says study author Dr. Ronald Postuma, with the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre.
“It's a modest difference but it is real,” he told CTV News. “And it is there on objective measurements. Patients moved better while on caffeine.”
Parkinson’s patient Archie Christian says the disease can be like walking with heavy weights on your legs. But he says after taking caffeine pills as part in the study, he found he could walk faster and easier.
“In a few days, I noticed a big difference,” he says.
When he went off them, he became slower and stiffer.
Studies have already shown that people who get caffeine daily from coffee are less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease in the first place. This study suggests it may be that caffeine somehow blocks malfunctioning brain signals.
The study authors note that the number of patients they studied was small, and the length of their study was short. They say it’s also possible that the effects of caffeine may lessen over time.
Still, Dr. Edward Fon of the Parkinson Foundation of Canada says the study is intriguing.
“I think it warrants more investigation because this is relatively safe compared to other experimental mediations --safe and cheap compared to newer experimental medications,” Dr. Fon told CTV News.
Dr. Michael Schwarzschild, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who wrote an accompanying editorial, says he’s not ready to recommend caffeine for all Parkinson’s patients.
“Although the results do not suggest that caffeine should be used as a treatment in Parkinson’s disease, they can be taken into consideration when people with Parkinson’s are discussing their caffeine use with their neurologist,” he said in a statement.
The study was supported by the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Webster Foundation.
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip