Drinking coffee may prevent eyelid twitch

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Drinking coffee can protect people from developing a tic in which an eyelid twitches uncontrollably, a new study from Italy suggests.

But people with the condition, known as late-onset blepharospasm, should not try to treat it by downing more java, Dr. Giovanni Defazio of the University of Bari, the study’s lead author, told Reuters Health. “It is not a cure, but it should prevent the development of blepharospasm,” he said, adding that other researchers need to confirm the findings.

Late-onset blepharospasm usually strikes people in their 40s and 50s, and belongs to a class of disorders known as dystonias that involve involuntary muscle contractions. Other types of dystonia include writer’s cramp and musician’s cramp.

Following up on a study that suggested smoking was protective against the development of late-onset blepharospasm, Defazio and his team looked at coffee and cigarette intake in 166 people with the condition, comparing them to 228 hospitalized individuals with a different type of facial spasm and 187 controls.

While there was no link between tobacco intake and the likelihood of developing blepharospasm, people who drank coffee were less likely to have late onset blepharospasm -- and the more coffee they drank, the lower was their risk -- the researchers report in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

“We don’t know exactly what is in the coffee that has a preventive effect, but the most likely candidate is caffeine,” Defazio told Reuters Health. He pointed out that caffeine acts on receptors in a part of the brain called the basal ganglia that plays a key role in the control of movement.

He and his colleagues are now planning to investigate whether coffee may reduce the risk of other types of dystonias, and perhaps prevent dystonias from spreading from one part of the body to another.

SOURCE: Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, August 2007.