What is Parkinson's disease?
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Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years. It is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra, which is responsible for producing a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine acts as a messenger between the parts of the brain and nervous system that help control and coordinate body movements. Disrupting this communication causes involuntary movement issues.
Research is on the lookout for risk factors that contribute to Parkinson’s in a bid to try and thwart its development.
Coffee and caffeine have been associated with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease in several studies.
A meta-analysis was performed on the literature to investigate how strong the association is.
The study aimed to investigate the disease-modifying potential of caffeine on Parkinson’s, either for healthy people or patients.
Researchers scanned electronic databases using terms related to Parkinson’s and coffee and caffeinated food products.
Articles were included only upon meeting clear diagnostic criteria for Parkinson’s and details regarding their caffeine content.
In total, the study enrolled 13 studies, nine were categorised into a healthy cohort and the rest into a Parkinson’s cohort.
“The individuals in the healthy cohort with regular caffeine consumption had a significantly lower risk of PD [Parkinson’s disease] during follow-up evaluation,” the researchers wrote.
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What’s more, individuals consuming caffeine presented a significantly lower rate of Parkinson’s progression.
“In conclusion, caffeine modified disease risk and progression in PD, among both healthy individuals or those with PD,” the researchers concluded.
Other modifiable risk factors
Some researchers also feel environmental factors may increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
It’s been suggested that pesticides and herbicides used in farming and traffic or industrial pollution may contribute to the condition.
But the evidence linking environmental factors to Parkinson’s disease is inconclusive.
It is worth noting that not every risk factor for Parkinson’s is modifiable.
A number of genetic factors have been shown to increase a person’s risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, although exactly how these make some people more susceptible to the condition is unclear.
Parkinson’s disease can run in families as a result of faulty genes being passed to a child by their parents. But it’s rare for the disease to be inherited this way.
Parkinson’s – symptoms to spot
There are many different symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. But the order in which these develop and their severity is different for each individual.
According to the NHS, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease usually develop gradually and are mild at first.
The three main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease affect physical movement:
- Tremor – shaking, which usually begins in the hand or arm and is more likely to occur when the limb is relaxed and resting
- Slowness of movement (bradykinesia) – physical movements are much slower than normal, which can make everyday tasks difficult and result in a distinctive slow, shuffling walk with very small steps
- Muscle stiffness (rigidity) – stiffness and tension in the muscles, which can make it difficult to move around and make facial expressions, and can result in painful muscle cramps (dystonia).
“These main symptoms are sometimes referred to by doctors as parkinsonism as there can be causes other than Parkinson’s disease,” adds the NHS.
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