Each year in the United States more than 60,000 adults are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. This progressive, neurodegenerative disease has no cure. In its early stages, the most common symptoms of Parkinson’s are: loss of coordination, difficulty keeping one’s balance, and stiffness. As the disease progresses, trembling of the hands and difficulty speaking become more apparent. Eventually, individuals with Parkinson’s become confined to a wheelchair or bedridden.
There are treatments that can help manage the symptoms of this disease, but they often have severe side effects. Further, these treatments are, for the most part, not very effective. In many cases, people prefer the symptoms to the side effects of the recommended medications.
The cause of Parkinson’s disease remains unknown. However, a critical change in the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease has been identified: a buildup of a specific protein that has become misfolded. These misfolded proteins cause cell death, which eventually leads to the symptoms associated with this disease.
A variety of studies have shown that coffee can help protect individuals against Parkinson’s disease. However, coffee contains hundreds of compounds that may affect brain chemistry, and it has remained unclear to researchers which of those compounds are responsible for this protective effect.
Recently a team of researchers from the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical SchooI Institute for Neurological Therapeutics in Piscataway, NJ, decided to analyze the effects of a specific compound in coffee known as eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytriptamide (EHT), to determine if it was responsible for the protective effects of coffee. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
EHT is a fatty acid derivative of serotonin, and is found in the waxy coating of coffee beans. The reason this compound was chosen from among the hundreds of compounds contained in coffee beans is that previous studies have shown that EHT has neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties.
The researchers were able to prove that EHT, combined with caffeine, provided a significant reduction in the buildup of misfolded proteins. Researchers found that mice treated with a combination of EHT and caffeine performed significantly better in a variety of behavioral tests. According to the researchers, this finding offers fresh hope for new drugs that will halt or slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease.
The authors also point out that it is likely that other compounds in coffee also have neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties, or that can be combined with EHT and caffeine to produce a more potent treatment for this disease.
The amount of EHT required to produce a therapeutic effect cannot be obtained by simply drinking coffee each day. However, it is likely that compounds in coffee will lead to new medications for the treatment of this devastating disease.
Beacon of LIFE, in Oceanport, NJ, is a government-approved PACE program created to provide seniors, their family, caregivers and professional health care providers the flexibility to meet their health care needs while continuing to live in their community.
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