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Parkinson’s disease is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain called the substantia nigra. As the NHS explains, nerve cells in this part of the brain are responsible for producing a chemical called dopamine. “Dopamine acts as a messenger between the parts of the brain and nervous system that help control and coordinate body movements,” says the health body.
Disrupting the release of dopamine leads to a range of physical and mental impairments that get progressively worse over time.
Unfortunately, there’s currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease or no known way to prevent it.
However, research has uncovered a number of possible risk associations for Parkinson’s, which comprise genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors.
In terms of the modifiable risk factors, research suggests diet may play a role in Parkinson’s.
A study published in the journal Neurology found people who consumed three or more servings of low-fat dairy every day were slightly more likely to develop the condition than those who consumed less than one serving a day.
In the study, researchers at Harvard analysed approximately 25 years of data on 80,736 women and 48,610 men.
Participants completed health questionnaires every two years and diet questionnaires every four years.
During that time, 1,036 people developed Parkinson’s.
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The researchers did identify a link between full-fat dairy consumption and risk of Parkinson’s.
But those who consumed at least three servings of low-fat dairy a day had a one percent chance of developing Parkinson’s over the 25-year period, compared to 0.6 percent in those who consumed less than one serving per day.
Commenting on the findings, Claire Bale, Head of Research Communications and Engagement at Parkinson’s UK, said:
“This study highlights a potentially interesting connection between dairy products and Parkinson’s, but fails to tell us how the two might be connected.
“It’s really important to point out that the risk of developing Parkinson’s was still very low (around one in 100), even in those who consumed lots of dairy, so there is no reason for people to make changes to their diet based on this research.”
Other risk factors
It’s been suggested that pesticides and herbicides used in farming and traffic or industrial pollution may contribute to the condition.
“But the evidence linking environmental factors to Parkinson’s disease is inconclusive,” says the NHS.
Genetic factors have provided a more conclusive link, although exactly how these make some people more susceptible to the condition is unclear.
“Over the years, scientists have studied DNA from people with Parkinson’s, comparing their genes,” explains the Parkinson’s Foundation (PF).
Even when someone has a gene mutation associated with Parkinson’s, the likelihood of developing the disease is low, however.
“This is because researchers are only beginning to understand the role genes play in Parkinson’s — like if certain genes cause Parkinson’s and how other genes may protect some people from developing it,” says the Parkinson’s Foundation (PF).
It adds: “Right now, we know that inherited genetics, environmental influences and lifestyle choices collectively determine if someone will develop Parkinson’s.”
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