According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, almost one million people in the US are living with the disease—more than the number of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and Lou Gehrig’s disease combined. As they study Parkinson’s disease (PD), researchers continue to report surprising information about this progressive nervous system disorder. For example, surviving a heart attack can lower a person’s risk of PD by 20 percent, and where you live can affect your chances of developing the disease.
The most recent finding may have you rethinking your choice of beverage, as a new study showed that a drink many people consider healthy may spike your risk of PD. Read on to find out what it is.
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The public’s awareness of PD has grown over the years, especially after actor Michael J. Fox disclosed his diagnosis of the disease in 1998. The National Institute on Aging (NIH) describes PD as “a brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination.” The NIH explains that symptoms tend to begin slowly and become worse over time. “As the disease progresses, people may have difficulty walking and talking,” their experts say.
PD can also cause problems with memory and sleep, as well as mental and behavioral difficulties. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that in the period between 1999 and 2017, the death rates for adults over the age of 65 with PD increased by 57 percent.
With PD, certain nerve cells (neurons) in the brain gradually break down or die, and many symptoms of the condition are due to a loss of neurons that produce a chemical messenger in your brain called dopamine. “When dopamine levels decrease, it causes abnormal brain activity, leading to impaired movement and other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease,” explains the Mayo Clinic.
Scientists don’t know what causes PD, but it is thought that 15 percent of cases may be caused by genetics. Other possible causes of PD may include environmental triggers, as well as the presence of a substance in the brain called Lewy bodies. “If a continuum existed, with genetic causes at one end and environmental causes at the other, people with Parkinson’s would fall at many different places,” it says on the Michael J. Fox Foundation website. “We know aging plays a role, too,” their experts write, also noting that men are more likely to be afflicted with PD than women.
“By the time classic motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease show up, a significant loss of brain cells and function have already occurred,” explains Healthline. “Scientists are investigating ways to detect early signs of the disease, to potentially stop or slow the progression.”
With no known cure or cause for PD, it’s important to know how to potentially prevent the disease. Participating in physical activity and eating a healthy, balanced diet are recommended by Verywell Health, among other lifestyle choices. Avoiding certain possible risk factors is important, too—and a new study published in Nutritional Neurosciencee reports that drinking cow’s milk and consuming certain other dairy products may increase the risk of PD.
“Many studies have found evidence for the association between Parkinson’s disease (PD) and low-fat dairy products,” says Usmarah Hussain, MD, an editor at Brain Reference. “These epidemiological investigations have concluded that the antiuremic effects of dairy proteins are the main culprit behind this association.”
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Why does drinking milk possibly increase a person’s risk of PD? “Urate is a common waste product that is produced by the breakdown of chemicals called purines,” says Usmarah. “Urate protects the body from PD, but certain milk proteins (casein and lactalbumin) reduce the production of urate, which in turn reduces one’s ability to fight PD.” (Usmarah notes that soured milk and yogurt are exceptions.)
This information can be confusing in light of other reports that have found that drinking milk can benefit certain aspects of your wellness, such as cardiovascular health. But if you want to decrease your risk of developing PD, it might be wise to rethink your go-to beverage and load up on things that have been found to be beneficial to your brain.
“Eating foods and drinks that contain flavonoids, such as berries, apples, orange juice, tea, and red wine, may reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease in men by 40 percent,” says the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). Some research has shown that drinking caffeine may slash the risk, as well.
If you’re concerned about PD and your diet, consult your doctor or a nutritionist about what’s best for you.