Coffee — it wakes you up in the morning, gives you a jolt of energy in the afternoon, or just warms you up on a cold winter day. But did you know that this popular beverage could also stave off an eye condition that could leave you blind?
Researchers in Italy wanted to see if two common habits — drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes — had any effect on the age that an eye disorder set in. The specific condition they looked at is called “blepharospasm” (BSP). BSP seems almost harmless in its main description: it’s an involuntary eyelid twitch. Basically, your eyelid contracts and retracts by itself, sometimes even fully closing and opening. In severe cases, the forced closing of the eyelids can make some individuals blind for hours or days at a time. There is currently no cure for BSP. Treatments include drugs, surgery, stress management, and botulinum toxin injection. Yes, that’s the stuff all the stars are using to get rid of wrinkles.
The Italian researchers examined the background of 166 BSP patients, 228 control subjects with another type of eye spasm, and 187 healthy control subjects. Specifically, they focused on drinking and smoking habits, risk for BSP, the age that the eye condition set in, and the severity of the eye spasms.
The research team found that smoking made no difference when it came to BSP. Coffee was a different story. People who drank one or two cups of joe a day were less likely to develop the eye spasm condition. In people who did have BSP, the more coffee that they drank, the later in life the eye spasms kicked in. Basically, for each cup of daily coffee, the onset of BSP was delayed by 1.7 years. Yes, that’s almost two years of healthy eyelid function per cup of coffee!
It’s important to note that it’s the caffeine in the beverage that is believed to be responsible for this protective effect. So decaffeinated won’t do you any good against BSP. Previous research showed that coffee could help prevent another disease involving involuntary tremors: Parkinson’s disease. It’s thought that caffeine could help block receptors for a neurotransmitter called “adenosine.” When this occurs, more of the dopamine neurotransmitter is released in the brain. Some scientists believe that a dopamine deficiency is behind Parkinson’s and other nervous system problems.
As you know, coffee with caffeine as a healthy beverage is still a controversial subject. It’s best to check with your doctor or nutritionist on the risks/benefits that regular consumption of coffee with caffeine could have for your particular case. It’s worth considering as a preventative step if BSP runs in your family or if your doctor thinks you are at risk for any reason.