Coffee could combat Parkinson’s and dementia

Coffee could combat Parkinson’s and dementia


Coffee could combat Parkinson’s and dementia: Scientists discover two compounds in the pick-me-up prevent the toxic accumulation of proteins in the brain

  • Prevents protein alpha-synuclein from aggregating and forming clumps in mice
  • At-risk rodents were protected after taking low doses for just six months
  • Gives hope for a treatment for the two currently incurable diseases 
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Coffee could combat both Parkinson’s disease and a form of dementia, research suggests.

Two compounds, including caffeine, in the pick-me-up work together to prevent the accumulation of a toxic protein in the brains of mice. 

This protein, known as alpha-synuclein, is associated with both Parkinson’s and dementia with lewy bodies (DLB). 

Tests on rodents genetically at risk of both diseases showed the combination of caffeine and the compound EHT prevented alpha-synuclein from building-up after just six months. 

The scientists now hope caffeine and EHT could be combined into a drug to help treat Parkinson’s and DLB in humans, which are both incurable.

Coffee could combat Parkinson’s disease and a form of dementia, research suggests (stock)

The research was carried out by Rutgers University and led by neurologist Dr M Maral Mouradian.

Nearly one million Americans are expected to be diagnosed with Parkinson’s by 2020, according to figures. Around 145,500 have been diagnosed in the UK.

PD is a neurodegenerative disorder that mainly affects the dopamine-producing brain networks in the substantia nigra. 

Symptoms include shaking, stiffness, and difficulty walking, balancing and coordinating. 

Dementia with Lewy Bodies (DLB) is a type of dementia that shares symptoms with both Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. It occurs when alpha-synuclein appears in nerve cells in the brain.

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Alpha-synuclein’s function in a healthy brain is unclear. When it clumps, it can lead to cell death, which is associated with both PD and DLB. 

Treatments for both diseases focus on reducing the protein’s gene expression and blocking its aggregation. 

DLB affects around 1.3million in the US, according to the Lewy Body Dementia Association. And it makes up between 10 and 15 per cent of all 850,000 dementia cases in the UK, Alzheimer’s Society states. 


Parkinson’s disease affects one in 500 people, and around 127,000 people in the UK live with the condition.

Figures also suggest one million Americans also suffer.

It causes muscle stiffness, slowness of movement, tremors, sleep disturbance, chronic fatigue, an impaired quality of life and can lead to severe disability.

It is a progressive neurological condition that destroys cells in the part of the brain that controls movement.

Sufferers are known to have diminished supplies of dopamine because nerve cells that make it have died.

There is currently no cure and no way of stopping the progression of the disease, but hundreds of scientific trials are underway to try and change that.  

The disease claimed the life of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in 2016.

The researchers analysed newborn mice who expressed a gene that caused alpha-synuclein to aggregate in their brain. 

The rodents were given either 50mg/kg of caffeine, 12mg/kg of EHT or a combination of the two mixed in their food or water every day for six months. 

Tests were then carried out to assess the animals’ motor, learning and memory skills, which reflects activity in different parts of the brain.

When given alone, neither caffeine nor EHT had any effect. But the mice who took the two compounds together had higher test scores.

The rodents were then euthanised and their brains examined. This revealed EHT and caffeine together boosted the activity of the protein PP2A, which prevented the accumulation of alpha-synuclein clumps.

The compound coupling also led to reduced brain inflammation, which is a hallmark of PD. 

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

EHT is found in a coffee bean’s waxy coating and is unrelated to caffeine. A derivative of the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin, it has been found to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in past studies.

Dr Mouradian stressed further studies are required to determine the correct ratios of caffeine and EHT to help protect people from PD and DLB. 

‘EHT is a compound found in various types of coffee but the amount varies,’ she said. 

‘It is important that the appropriate amount and ratio be determined so people don’t over-caffeinate themselves, as that can have negative health consequences.’ 

Caffeine has previously been found to preserve brain health, with the role of coffee’s thousands of other compounds being less clear until now.  


Lewy body dementia (LBD) is the second most common form of degenerative dementia after Alzheimer’s.

It is the form Robin Williams was diagnosed with before he took his own life in 2014.

Unlike Alzheimer’s, LBD affects the brain regions responsible for vision – as opposed to memory.

That means sufferers may start with memory loss, but over time the more debilitating symptoms will be powerful hallucinations, nightmares and spatial-awareness problems.

LBD is closely connected to Parkinson’s disease, meaning that many sufferers will develop Parkinson’s as well – as happened to Robin Williams.


The most common symptoms include:

  • Impaired thinking, such as loss of executive function (planning, processing information), memory, or the ability to understand visual information.
  • Fluctuations in cognition, attention or alertness;
  • Problems with movement including tremors, stiffness, slowness and difficulty walking
  • Visual hallucinations (seeing things that are not present)
  • Sleep disorders, such as acting out one’s dreams while asleep
  • Behavioral and mood symptoms, including depression, apathy, anxiety, agitation, delusions or paranoia
  • Changes in autonomic body functions, such as blood pressure control, temperature regulation, and bladder and bowel function.


Many sufferers will first develop Parkinson’s, suffering physical disabilities, before doctors diagnose their dementia. That is what happened to the late revered actor Robin Williams.

Some will start with memory loss that could be mistaken for the more common Alzheimer’s disease. Over time, they will develop symptoms more clearly associated with LBD.


There is no known cause. What we do know is that risk increases with age.

At a cellular level, LBD is characterized by tiny clumps of abnormal proteins produced by the brain when its cells are not working properly.

They cause memory problems, although these don’t tend to be as severe as with Alzheimer’s — which is linked to a build-up of the protein beta-amyloid.

Another key difference is that Lewy body dementia affects regions of the brain responsible for vision, causing powerful hallucinations, nightmares and spatial-awareness problems.

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