- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

BOSTON, March 11 (UPI) — Women who are heavy coffee drinkers and take hormone replacement therapy could be at a higher risk for developing Parkinson's disease, research released Tuesday suggested.

For women who take HRT and drink beverages with little or no caffeine, the risk was reduced, according to the study published in the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

Although previous studies have associated caffeine with a low risk for Parkinson's in men, data on women have been inconclusive. Dr. Alberto Ascherio's research suggests the ambiguity could be due to a previously unknown hormone factor.

"Women who do not take hormone replacement therapy behave like men with the same inverse relationship," said Ascherio, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. Those who consumed more caffeinated drinks had a lower risk for the disease. On the other hand, "women who take HRT show an association in the opposite direction," he said.

To examine the relationship between caffeine intake, estrogen and Parkinson's, the research team looked at data for more than 77,000 women over an 18-year period. Out of these, 154 developed Parkinson's — a progressive disease that affects the ability to control movement.

Women on HRT who drank six or more cups of coffee a day quadrupled their risk for Parkinson's compared to those who did not drink coffee. For the moderate caffeine consumers, whether women were taking hormone therapy did not seem to affect their risk for Parkinson's.

Acherio said further research is needed to determine what is responsible for this link. "What is well known is that estrogen delays metabolism of caffeine," he said, adding whether this plays a part in the risk for disease is uncertain.

He also warned women not to change their decisions to use HRT based on these research results. "It's important to confirm these findings first," he said, as debate continues over a potential link between HRT and cancer as well as other diseases.

"It's hard to put into everyday life," agreed Dr. Charles Adler, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. Although provocative, he said the results were somewhat complicated.

"The major issue here is what underlies this interaction," Adler said, adding caffeine and estrogen both play roles in a number of different cell types and neuronal circuits.

He pointed out the number of women who had Parkinson's in the study was small and the limited sample would affect results though they are still significant.

"It adds good information," Adler said, "but for now I'd be very careful about telling people to change their amount of caffeine intake."

(Reported by Christine Suh, UPI Science News, in Washington.)

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