Scientists have long known that nicotine can offer protection from developing Parkinson’s but the risk of cancer from smoking tends to outweigh the benefits. Now a study conducted with 1100 subjects has found that edible sources of nicotine from food plants such as potatoes, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes might also lower the risk of developing Parkinson’s.
Other studies focused on smoking and tobacco use have found nicotine offers some neuroprotection in Parkinson’s. A few studies have even suggested that second hand smoke might also confer some protection against PD which inspired Dr. Susan Searles Nielsen of University of Washington to see if other sources of nicotine might also offer some protection. Tobacco belongs to the solanacea family of plants, as do potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers. These vegetables also contain nicotine, however in much smaller amounts than tobacco. They are also an important part of a Mediterranean diet, which has long been considered beneficial for people with Parkinson’s.
Dr Nielsen and associates at the University of Washington in Seattle studied men and women newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s and a comparable group of men and women without neurological diagnoses. A medical questionnaire was used to evaluate the participants lifetime uses of tobacco and diet. Use of tobacco included cigarettes, cigars or pipe smoking or smokeless tobacco products.
They found that eating vegetables in general did not confer any risk protection but that eating more vegetables in the solanacea family which contain small amounts of nicotine, did show a trend toward increased protection of risk of Parkinson’s. People who ate vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes and eggplant at least twice a week were 30% less likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease. And people who consumed peppers, that have a higher concentration of nicotine, two to four times a week showed an even stronger trend toward risk protection in Parkinson’s. The effect, however, was the strongest in people who had used little or no tobacco in their lives.
But perhaps it is a bit too soon to rush into a diet that is rich in red or green peppers. While this study may lead to the development of better treatments for Parkinson’s, more research is neede to dtermine the exact mechanism of benefit .
This is the first study to evaluate the benefits of edible nicotine and risk protection in Parkinsons. While it did show a similarity to studies on the protection offered by tobacco use, more studies are needed to confirm these results. Finding a less toxic source of nicotine such as peppers could lead to more innovative approaches for the prevention and treatment of Parkinson’s.