Coffee: A Special Perk Against Parkinson's?

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After years on the periphery of tea-pushing, health-conscious America, denizens of Starbucks may finally be poised to reap their revenge. According to a new study at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Honolulu, coffee drinkers who slug back more than four cups of java a day may be as much as five times less likely to develop Parkinson's disease than folks who abstain. Less enthusiastic coffee drinkers (those who consume one to four cups daily) may also benefit — researchers, who followed the coffee-drinking habits and health status of 8,004 Japanese-American men over a 35-year period, charted lower-volume coffee drinkers' risk at two or three times below that of non-coffee drinkers. The irony of the possibility that coffee (which makes many people nervous and jumpy) could have a role in the prevention of Parkinson's (a progressive neurological disease that manifests itself as muscle tremors) was apparently lost on the study's authors.

Now, of course, the real investigation begins. Do some people have a brain composition that both leads them to drink large amounts of coffee and not to get Parkinson's? Or does an ingredient in coffee (such as caffeine) establish some kind of barrier against the disease? Could drinking coffee after diagnosis work to slow the progression of Parkinson's? The Honolulu researchers aren't quite there yet, but even their preliminary findings are startling enough to attract the attention of the National Parkinson Foundation — and undoubtedly have offered Parkinson's sufferers an inkling of hope for future developments.