Can Coffee Prevent Parkinson's?
What do you think of that study showing that the more coffee you drink, the lower your risks of Parkinson's disease? I would also like to know if Parkinson's disease is hereditary.
Parkinson's disease is a neurological condition that affects the area of the brain that controls movement. The recently discovered link between coffee consumption and the risk of Parkinson's disease is interesting, but I wouldn't rush to guzzle large amounts of coffee on the basis of these findings alone.
Results reported last month in the "Journal of the American Medical Association" showed that men who didn't drink coffee were five times more likely to develop Parkinson's than men who drank four to five cups a day; and they were two to three times more likely to develop the disease than men who drank four cups of coffee per day. (These results held true whether the men drank their coffee black, with milk and sugar, or with only milk or only sugar.) The researchers, from the Department of Veterans Affairs in Honolulu, suggested that caffeine may counteract age-related changes in the brain that affect levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine (which are lower than normal in people who have Parkinson's). However, they couldn't say whether or not drinking coffee guarantees you protection against the disease -- or whether or not the results seen among men would hold true for women.
The real problem is that this is retrospective research -- it tries to reach into the past for a causal link to explain a correlation observed in the present. This is an easy kind of study to do -- and it is also the weakest. All retrospective research can do is raise a possibility that must be tested prospectively: take people in the present, give coffee to half, but none to the other half, and see how many in each group develop Parkinson's disease over time.
You also ask if the disease is hereditary. So far, it does appear to run in families. However, the only confirmed genetic links are mutations that can cause the disease to develop relatively early in life. An international team of researchers recently announced results of a study of 73 families with histories of early-onset inherited Parkinson's. They found that the mutations in the "parkin" gene were a major cause of this form of the disease; but when Parkinson's develops after the age of 30, the mutations don't seem to be responsible. Some researchers have also theorized that Parkinson's is related to a virus -- but again, I don't know of any convincing evidence which proves this theory. Clearly, we still have a lot to learn about the disease. My belief is that toxic injury to key brain centers controlling movement may be responsible.
It's fortunate that some of our favorite celebrities have come forward and talked about living with Parkinson's disease. People like Muhammad Ali, Michael J. Fox, and Attorney General Janet Reno have done a lot to bring this disease into the public spotlight. Hopefully, the attention will help us find a cure soon.