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Does Coffee's Caffeine Protect Against Parkinson's Disease?

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WebMD Health News

May 23, 2000 -- On the same day actor Michael J. Fox officially announced the launch of a foundation for Parkinson's disease research that bears his name, a new study was released showing that men who don't drink coffee are two to three times as likely to get the disease as are men who do drink coffee.

And the more caffeine from coffee the men in the study consumed, the lower their incidence of Parkinson's disease. For example, men who don't drink coffee at all were five times as likely to get the disease as were those who drink seven cups, or 28 oz., or more each day.

But don't raid your grocery store just yet. "It's too early to say we should go out and drink lots of coffee to avoid getting Parkinson's disease," researcher G. Webster Ross, MD, tells WebMD. "We can't yet establish a cause-and-effect relationship."

"To do that, you'd have to do a controlled study looking at the effect of coffee over a five- to 10-year period," Jay Gorell, MD, tells WebMD. Gorell, who reviewed the study for WebMD, is division head of movement disorders at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Parkinson's disease now affects three of every 100 people over age 65, but as people continue to live longer, this percentage could double in the next 30 to 40 years. The disease also can afflict younger people, like the 38-year-old Fox, who has had Parkinson's since 1991.

In a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Fox announced the formation of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research and its merger with the Parkinson's Action Network, which together will lobby for research funding and try to increase awareness about the disease.

"I have gone from patient to advocate in a day," Fox said. "I will do everything I can to live up to the honor of representing the Parkinson's community to the best of my ability." Fox, who is leaving the ABC series "Spin City" to funnel his time into keeping "the momentum going" and finding a cure "in less than 10 years," only two years ago announced that he suffered from the disease.

"My approach to Parkinson's in the first few years was to keep it as close [to the vest] as possible," he said, but, going it alone became exhausting. "One craves the company of other people with the same struggles and challenges," he said.

"It's helped me tremendously, the feeling of being able to serve ... to be able to offer up my story, as much as it is uncomfortable sometimes," he said.

In Parkinson's disease, brain cells responsible for controlling movement die off, causing stiffness, uncontrolled shaking, and other symptoms. Even with treatment, most patients get worse with time, and may eventually need wheelchairs or become bedridden.

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