Two substances from coffee, working together, may protect against nerve cell damage and improve response in animal models of Parkinson’s disease and a similar disease called dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), according to new research funded by the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and cooperating institutions, was published in a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Coffee consumption is connected with a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease, and caffeine is generally thought to be the protective agent. Still, several lines of evidence imply that other components of coffee may also play a role.

In this research, two coffee elements, eicosanoyl-5-hydroxytryptamide (EHT) and caffeine, were evaluated separately and together in mouse models of Parkinson’s disease and DLB. Both disorders are associated with abnormal deposits of a protein called alpha-synuclein in the brain.

These abnormal deposits alter chemicals in the brain, causing changes that impair movement and thinking.

When administered separately, neither EHT nor caffeine manifested benefit. However, when administered together for six months, the mixture had beneficial results in the mouse models. The two coffee elements helped keep an enzyme named protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A), which reduces the accumulation of alpha-synuclein, in an active form.

Mice that received the two substances manifested less buildup of alpha-synuclein, less nerve inflammation, better nerve cell function, and closer-to-normal behavior.

The researchers who attended the study recorded that coffee is a complex chemical mixture containing more than a thousand different substances. Thus, additional elements of coffee may also act a role in protecting against the transformations that occur in Parkinson’s disease and DLB.

The researchers also noted that the amounts of specific elements in coffee vary depending on the conditions of growth and harvesting of the coffee plant and the ways of roasting the coffee beans and brewing and filtering the beverage. As more is discovered, it may become possible to optimize the composition of coffee to enhance its effects.