If you’re a fan of peppers – whether they’re bell peppers or hot peppers of any variety – you could be reducing your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease without even realizing it, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Washington. In the study, those who ate peppers twice a week reduced their Parkinson’s risk by 30% in comparison to those who consumed peppers less frequently than once per week.
The study seems to indicate that people with early Parkinson’s warning signs might want to increase the number of peppers in their diet. The National Parkinson Foundation lists some early warning signs, including loss of smell, suddenly smaller handwriting, trouble moving, constipation, and dizziness or fainting. These symptoms, combined with sleep trouble, slight tremors, or changes in voice, might warrant a visit to a doctor.
Peppers Help Prevent Parkinson’s Because They Contain… Nicotine?!
Incredibly, the researchers behind the study believe that peppers help to prevent Parkinson’s because they contain nicotine, the same addictive ingredient found in cigarettes. Of course, the amount of nicotine found in a pepper is relatively tiny, though small amounts are still present because tobacco and peppers are all members of the same plant family. In previous studies, researchers found that nicotine may act to protect brain cells from the damage that normally comes with Parkinson’s. Normally, Parkinson’s disease damages about 80% of the brain cells responsible for dopamine production, which in turn deteriorates muscle function.
The typical symptoms of Parkinson’s include muscle tremors, difficulty maintaining balance, stiffness in certain areas of the body and slowed movement. Up to 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease every year, adding to a total of about one million.
More Peppers, Greater Effect
The researchers behind the new University of Washington study examined the tobacco and dietary habits of nearly 500 people with recent Parkinson’s diagnoses. They also examined the same attributes in about 640 people who had not been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. In particular, subjects were asked to describe the frequency with which they consumed various veggies, as well as their tobacco habits.
The study ultimately found that the more peppers you eat, the lower your risk for Parkinson’s disease. Those who ate peppers on a near-daily basis (up to six times per week) were about 50% less likely to develop Parkinson’s than those who only ate peppers every other week or so.
The study essentially threw out data for participants who smoked or used other tobacco products, since the amount of nicotine found in these products greatly surpasses the amount of nicotine found in even the most pepper-heavy diet.
Limitations of the Study
The authors of the study admitted that while the findings show great promise, more research will be needed to establish a clearer link between peppers, nicotine and Parkinson’s disease. It’s entirely possible that some component in peppers aside from nicotine could be partly or even largely responsible for the apparent link.
In addition, it’s important to note that any study with self-reported data is vulnerable to inaccuracies. Some of the subjects in the study may have misremembered or poorly estimated exactly how many times they consume peppers in a week, for example.
The Bottom Line
The more peppers you eat, the lower your risk for developing Parkinson’s disease, according to a new study. The researchers believe that trace amounts of nicotine in peppers may be responsible for the link, though more research remains before the link can be confirmed.
The full text of the study can be found online in Annals of Neurology.