Factors Associated With Reduced Risk
While there is no known way to prevent Parkinson’s disease (PD) and the exact cause remains unknown, researchers have identified some factors that are associated with a reduced risk of the disease.
Caffeine consumption may decrease a person’s risk of developing PD. In clinical studies, people who had a moderate daily intake (3-5 cups a day) of caffeinated beverages, such as coffee or tea, had less incidence of PD than those who did not drink caffeine.1
Parkinson’s disease is believed to begin in the enteric nervous system, which is part of the autonomic nervous system that controls the gastrointestinal organs, causing symptoms such as constipation. Recent research has shown that the bacteria that live in the intestines, also known as the microbiome, interact with the autonomic and central nervous systems and may play a part in the development of PD.
One of the characteristics of PD is the accumulation of the protein alpha-synuclein. These clumps are also known as Lewy bodies. The intestinal bacteria influence the activity of the nerve cells of the enteric nervous system, possibly affecting the secretion of alpha-synuclein. One hypothesis is that factors secreted by some bacteria cause inflammation in the nervous system, which may contribute to the formation of Lewy bodies. More research is needed to understand how the gut influences neurons in the brain and the development of PD.2
Uric acid is a chemical that is created when purines, found in some foods and drinks, are broken down in the body. It is normally filtered by the kidneys and excreted through the urine, and high levels of uric acid are associated with gout and kidney disease. The level of uric acid in the blood is called serum urate. Clinical studies have found that people with a high serum urate level may have up to a 33% reduced incidence of PD.
This protective effect of serum urate was particularly found in men. Studies are ongoing to find compound to elevate urate levels with the goal of preventing the progression of PD.3,4
Several research studies have examined the effects of diet on the risk of developing PD. Clinical trials have looked at consumption of dairy products, animal fats, phytochemicals from vegetables and fruits, and reduced-calorie diets. Two studies that were conducted in the U.S. and Japan found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet may be associated with a reduced risk of developing PD, or it may reduce the age of onset.
Mediterranean-style diets are high in vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and legumes along with moderately high levels of fish, but low to moderate levels of dairy, meat, and poultry. Another study found that higher intakes of flavonoids (found in tea, berries, apples, oranges, and red wine) may provide a protective effect and reduce the risk of PD. However, these studies are less than conclusive. While what people eat may impact the development of PD, more research is needed to understand what components of these diets may be protective.5-8
Regular exercise is known to relieve some of the motor symptoms of PD, and research has also found that an active lifestyle may have protective effects. One study found that individuals who consistently engaged in physical activity at high levels had a 51% lower risk of PD than those with low levels of activity. Also, participation in competitive sports before age 25 was also associated with a lower incidence of PD.9