Alcohol Doesn't Protect Against Parkinson's Disease
By Steven Reinberg, HealthScoutNews Reporter
FRIDAY, May 16 (HealthScoutNews) -- Whether alcohol can protect you from developing Parkinson's disease is a hotly debated issue among researchers.
Now, a new study indicates alcohol has no effect on preventing onset of the disease.
"There is not a very strong association between alcohol consumption and the risk of Parkinson's disease," says study author Dr. Miguel A. Hernan.
Parkinson's is a chronic neurological condition with symptoms ranging from tremors on one side of the body to slowness of movement, stiffness of limbs and balance problems. It affects about 1.5 million Americans, with an additional 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year. While it can start at any age, Parkinson's is most common among adults over 50 years of age.
Hernan, who is from the Harvard School of Public Health, and his colleagues collected data from two large population-based studies -- the Nurses Health Study, which followed 121,700 female nurses for 25 years, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which followed 51,529 male health-care professionals for 15 years.
Of the 88,722 women and 47,367 men for whom data on drinking were available, 167 of the women and 248 of the men developed Parkinson's, according to the findings, published in the May 15 issue of the Annals of Neurology.
There was no correlation between moderate to low alcohol consumption and the development of Parkinson's, Hernan says. There was no data available for heavy drinkers, he adds.
Some studies have shown cigarette smoking and coffee have a protective effect, Hernan says. Other studies have shown that alcohol helps reduce the risk of Parkinson's, he notes.
But Hernan says, "Our findings show that alcohol drinking is not associated with a lower or higher risk of Parkinson's. It is possible that beer is associated with a slightly lower risk."
Hernan is quick to say that these findings and the findings of other studies should not encourage you to drink more beer or start smoking. The risk to your health from smoking or from excessive drinking far outweighs any possible benefit, he stresses.
Harvey Checkoway, a professor of environmental health at the University of Washington, adds that "the absence of any clear association with total alcohol consumption is not surprising in view of the mixed results from previous studies."
"The [Harvard] researchers' observation of a slightly reduced Parkinson's risk in beer drinkers is provocative, although somewhat unanticipated," Checkoway adds. "It is possible, as the authors mention, that components of beer other than alcohol may have a protective effect. Identifying what the specific protective factors are, and how they act in the brain, could be a valuable area for additional research."
To learn more about Parkinson's disease, visit the Parkinson's Disease Foundation or the National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Miguel A. Hernan, M.D., Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Harvey Checkoway, Ph.D., professor, environmental health, University of Washington, Seattle; May 15, 2003, Annals of Neurology
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