Mystery in the Brain

Mystery in the Brain

An HSI member named Raskin writes, “I’d like to see more material about Parkinson’s disease if you can.”

We certainly can.

The most recent Parkinson’s breakthrough comes from an animal study, reported just two months ago. This Canadian study suggests that Parkinson’s disease (PD) may disable an enzyme called Prx2, which is necessary for the elimination of harmful elements produced within cells. Researchers believe that the buildup of these unwanted elements might contribute to the progressive degeneration of neurons in the areas of the brain that control voluntary movement.

Whether or not protection of Prx2 turns out to be a key step in sidetracking the mechanism that drives Parkinson’s, European research suggests that a dietary modification might prove to be a significant part of PD prevention.

Neuron protection

“Unsaturated fatty acids are important constituents of neuronal cell membranes and have neuroprotective, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.”

That’s how researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, describe the background for their study that appears in the journal Neurology. Their objective: determine the possible protection that an intake of unsaturated fatty acids might have on Parkinson’s disease risk.

The Erasmus team used data collected from the Rotterdam Study, an ongoing research project in which dietary and medical records for more than 10,000 male and female subjects over the age of 55 are followed to investigate risk factors for chronic diseases. For the Parkinson’s study, nearly 5,300 subjects were selected. At the outset, all were free of dementia or PD, and each subject underwent a complete dietary assessment. Subjects were monitored for an average period of six years.

At the conclusion of the follow up period, 51 subjects had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. The data revealed a significant link between a reduced risk of Parkinson’s and the highest intake of total fat, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).

One of the primary forms of PUFAs is very familiar to HSI members: omega-3, which is most abundant in fish, fish oils and grass-fed beef. MUFAs are found in olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds.

B cocktail

Without question, a diet that includes a high intake of MUFAs and PUFAs offers a wide range of health benefits. But increasing your intake of these unsaturated fatty acids is not the only way to reduce Parkinson’s disease risk.

In the e-Alert “Elevated Homocysteine” (3/6/02), I told you about research from the National Institute on Aging that found “the first direct evidence” that elevated homocysteine levels increase the risk of Parkinson’s.

The same research team found that homocysteine makes human brain cells more susceptible to the deadly affects of toxins like iron and the pesticide rotenone, which are known to cause some cases of PD. In laboratory tests using human tissues, homocysteine “significantly enhanced [cell death] induced by rotenone and iron.”

As we’ve seen in previous e-Alerts, elevated levels of the amino acid homocysteine have been linked with atherosclerosis as well as Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Considerable research has also demonstrated that foods and supplements rich in vitamins B-6, B-12, and folic acid may help reduce homocysteine levels.

Most people who raise their dietary folate intake – by eating asparagus, lentils, chickpeas, cantaloupe, watermelon, wheat germ, most varieties of beans, and especially spinach and other leafy green vegetables – respond with a lower homocysteine reading. But if the diet doesn’t do the trick, vitamin supplements often will.

Talk to your doctor before adding B vitamins to your normal regimen.

“Enzyme Damage Could Be Key to Parkinson’s” HealthDay News, 7/5/07,
“Dietary Fatty Acids and the Risk of Parkinson Disease: The Rotterdam Study” Neurology, Vol. 64, No. 12, 6/28/05,