Could eating peppers prevent Parkinson's? Dietary nicotine may hold protective key

New research reveals that Solanaceae—a flowering plant family with some species producing foods that are edible sources of nicotine—may provide a protective effect against Parkinson's disease. The study appearing today in Annals of Neurology, a journal of the American Neurological Association and Child Neurology Society, suggests that eating foods that contain even a small amount of nicotine, such as peppers and tomatoes, may reduce risk of developing Parkinson's.

Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder caused by a loss of that produce dopamine. Symptoms include facial, hand, arm, and leg tremors, stiffness in the limbs, , and slower overall movement. Nearly one million Americans have Parkinson's, with 60,000 new cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year, and up to ten million individuals worldwide live with this disease according to the Parkinson's Disease Foundation. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson's, but symptoms are treated with medications and procedures such as .

Previous studies have found that cigarette smoking and other forms of tobacco, also a Solanaceae plant, reduced relative risk of Parkinson's disease. However, experts have not confirmed if nicotine or other components in tobacco provide a protective effect, or if people who develop Parkinson's disease are simply less apt to use tobacco because of differences in the brain that occur early in the disease process, long before diagnosis.

For the present population-based study Dr. Susan Searles Nielsen and colleagues from the University of Washington in Seattle recruited 490 patients newly diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at the university's Neurology Clinic or a regional health maintenance organization, Group Health Cooperative. Another 644 unrelated individuals without were used as controls. Questionnaires were used to assess participants' lifetime diets and , which researchers defined as ever smoking more than 100 cigarettes or regularly using cigars, pipes or smokeless tobacco.

Vegetable consumption in general did not affect Parkinson's disease risk, but as consumption of edible Solanaceae increased, Parkinson's disease risk decreased, with peppers displaying the strongest association. Researchers noted that the apparent protection from Parkinson's occurred mainly in men and women with little or no prior use of tobacco, which contains much more nicotine than the foods studied.

"Our study is the first to investigate dietary nicotine and risk of developing Parkinson's disease," said Dr. Searles Nielsen. "Similar to the many studies that indicate tobacco use might reduce risk of Parkinson's, our findings also suggest a protective effect from nicotine, or perhaps a similar but less toxic chemical in peppers and tobacco." The authors recommend further studies to confirm and extend their findings, which could lead to possible interventions that prevent Parkinson's disease.

More information: "Nicotine from Edible Solanaceae and Risk of Parkinson Disease." Susan Searles Nielsen, Gary M. Franklin, W.T. Longstreth Jr, Phillip D. Swanson and Harvey Checkoway. Annals of Neurology; Published May 9, 2013 (DOI:10.1002/ana.23884).

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Family history of melanoma linked to Parkinson's disease

Feb 16, 2009

People with a family history of melanoma may have a greater risk of developing Parkinson's disease, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 61st Annual Meeting in ...

Recommended for you

Parkinson's disease reverted at a experimental stage

Dec 19, 2014

Mexican scientists demonstrated experimentally, with adult rats, that mobility can be restored in patients with Parkinson's disease, the major degenerative disease of the motor system worldwide. The experiments ...

EU team launches clinical trial of Parkinson's vaccine

Dec 09, 2014

Today the EU-consortium SYMPATH starts recruitment for a Phase I study of a Parkinson's vaccine candidate called AFFITOPE PD03A. This vaccine is one out of a designated pool of promising vaccine candidates based on AFFiRiS' ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.