May 14, 2013

Can the Peppers Peter Piper Picks Prevent Parkinson’s?


Eating foods with small amounts of nicotine – like peppers and tomatoes – MAY reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, according to a study released May 9 in the Annals of Neurology journal.

Dr. Susan Searles Nielsen -- with colleagues from the University of Washington / Seattle -- recruited 490 patients newly diagnosed with PD. For controls, they enlisted another 644 unrelated people with no neurological issues.

All study subjects answered questions about their dietary histories and tobacco use. For this investigation, tobacco use was defined as having ever smoked more than 100 cigarettes, or regular use of cigars, pipes, or smokeless tobacco.

The Solanaceae Family of Flowering Plants
Results showed reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease among people with increased consumption of foods from the flowering plant family Solanaceae, which includes peppers (red, green, yellow), tomatoes, and potatoes. Those edible plants contain small amounts of nicotine . . . not surprising since tobacco is also a Solanaceae family member.

Earlier PD studies implicated nicotine by showing a link between smoking (and other tobacco use) and reduced Parkinson’s risk. As is often the case, cause and effect couldn’t be clearly proven, even though association was apparent.

In this latest study, several connections stood out:
  • Among all foods involved, the greatest reduction in PD risk was associated with peppers. 
  • Those study participants who had never smoked showed “statistically significant” PD risk reduction. 
Said research leader Sarles Nielsen:
Our study is the first to investigate dietary nicotine and risk of developing Parkinson's disease. 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. 
A Nicotine Patch for PD?
Dr. Andrew Feigin, who studies PD at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset, NY, made these comments:
The observation that cigarette smokers have a reduced risk for Parkinson's disease has long been known, and has raised the idea that nicotine may reduce the risk for [the illness]. A nicotine skin patch is currently being tested in patients with early Parkinson's disease.
Dr. Kelly Changizi, co-director of the Center for Neuromodulation at the Mount Sinai Parkinson and Movement Disorders Center in New York City, said of the new study:
It provides further evidence of how diet can influence our susceptibility to neurological disease -- specifically Parkinson's disease. Patients often ask what role nutrition plays in their disease, so it's very interesting that nicotine in vegetables such as peppers may be neuroprotective.
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Lots of media outlets picked up this story of Parkinson’s and peppers. Here are the reports from just a few:

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