Millions of people reach for a caffeinated beverage each morning to jumpstart the day. Now, early research indicates that the stimulant that gets people moving also might help diagnose Parkinson's disease (PD). A recent study published in Neurology found that people with Parkinson's had significantly lower levels of caffeine in their blood than people who did not have PD and consumed the same amount of caffeine. This may indicate that how people process caffeine, in combination with other factors, could help identify Parkinson's earlier.
The study monitored 108 people who had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease six years earlier on average, and an additional 31 age-matched individuals who did not have PD. Participants were tested for caffeine and 11 byproducts the body makes as caffeine is metabolized. Individuals also received genetic testing to account for any mutations that might affect how their bodies process caffeine.
All volunteers consumed an average of two cups of coffee per day. Results showed that people with PD had significantly lower levels of caffeine in their blood compared to the control participants, and nine of the 11 byproducts were detected. Researchers were able to use these markers to identify the people who had Parkinson's with high accuracy.
Genetic results showed no difference in caffeine-related genes between the two groups.
The study did not include people with more advanced PD, so more research is needed to understand the association between caffeine and severity of disease or symptoms.
Moving the Dial on Measuring PD
Previous studies have suggested caffeine may help protect from Parkinson's. This new study lays the foundation for further investigation into how people with PD process caffeine as a potential disease marker.
Biomarkers, or objective measures to diagnose, track and treat Parkinson's, could transform PD therapeutic development. There are no definitive biomarkers for Parkinson's yet identified, but great strides are being made. MJFF's landmark study, Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI), is gathering comprehensive samples and data from more than 1,500 volunteers globally to advance biomarker research. This information is de-identified and made available to qualified researchers to corroborate their own scientific findings.
"Our strategy is to build an ecosystem to help validate results from studies that merit more exploration," says Mark Frasier, PhD, senior vice president of research programs at MJFF. "The Parkinson's Progression Markers Initiative was created as a replication engine, and we are poised to leverage PPMI data and samples for verification of these types of discoveries."
Frasier also emphasizes the importance of pursuing a combination of markers to test for Parkinson's given the disease's variable nature. "If clinical symptoms, such as smell loss and sleep changes, could be combined with a blood-based marker, we could more accurately identify PD risk in more people."
Watch our webinar on possible screening methods for PD.