Parkinson’s disease is caused by the death of nerve cells involved in the production of dopamine, a neuotransmitter essential for controlling motor functions. Although the causes of this disease are still poorly understood, recent data suggest that certain foods and beverages could help prevent this neurodegenerative disease.
Parkinson’s disease was first described in 1817 by the English physician, James Parkinson (1755-1824), after whom it is named. This disease is characterized by major disturbances in motor functions, characterized by uncontrollable tremors and muscle rigidity.
At a more advanced stage, cognitive and behavioral problems can also be observed, leading in some cases to the onset of dementia. It is a serious neurological disease, the second in importance behind Alzheimer’s disease, which predominantly affects people over the age of 60, but which can, in certain rare cases, appear before the age 40 years old. Unfortunately, there is no cure for the disease.
The loss of muscle control associated with Parkinson’s disease is caused by the destruction of dopamine-producing neurons located in a region of the brain called the substantia nigra (black substance).
Under normal conditions, the dopamine released by these neurons stimulates another region of the brain (the striatum) which plays an absolutely essential role in controlling muscle movement; the loss of dopamine caused by the death of these neurons therefore disrupts motor functions, leading to the characteristic tremors of the disease.
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The factors responsible for Parkinson’s disease are the subject of active research. Some families have an abnormally high incidence of the disease and studies have identified certain genes that could participate in its development. However, these genetic disorders only contribute to a small proportion of cases and in the vast majority of patients, Parkinson’s disease is idiopathic, ie no immediate cause can be identified.
However, as with the vast majority of diseases, it has been suspected for several years that certain lifestyle factors could participate in the development of the neurodegeneration that leads to Parkinson’s disease.
These include exposure to environmental toxins like pesticides and heavy metals and a history of head trauma, boxer Muhammad Ali, who suffered from the disease, is a good example of the possible involvement of such trauma.
Reduce risks with polyphenols from tea and red fruits
It also seems that the nature of the diet could greatly influence the risk of being affected by Parkinson’s disease. For example, a study by Harvard University showed that regular coffee drinkers (1-3 cups per day) had half the risk of developing the disease.
This protective effect is also observed in regular green tea drinkers: daily consumption of two or more cups of this beverage reduces the risk of Parkinson’s by about 25%.
Recent findings suggest that certain polyphenol-rich foods may also help prevent this disease. Examining the eating habits of 130,000 people over a 20-year period, Harvard researchers observed that people who ate an abundance of flavonoid-rich foods (berries, apples, tea, orange and red wine) had a 35% lower risk of Parkinson’s disease than those who consumed only small amounts of these foods.
Taken together, these observations suggest that in addition to helping prevent serious chronic diseases like heart disease and several types of cancer, certain polyphenol-rich foods like berries and green tea may also reduce neurodegeneration. which leads to Parkinson’s disease. It is up to us to take advantage of the benefits (and exquisite taste) of these foods.
Ascherio A et al. Prospective study of caffeine consumption and risk of Parkinson’s disease in men and women. Ann Neurol; 50:56-63.
Barranco Quintana et al. Parkinson’s disease and tea: a quantitative review. J. Am. Coll. Nutr.;28:1-6.
Gao X et al. Habitual intake of dietary flavonoids and risk of Parkinson disease. Congress of the American Academy of Neurology, Honolulu, Hawaii.
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