Relationship between smoking, alcohol and coffee consumption and Parkinson's disease may identify new risk factor

November 12, 2000

A new Mayo Clinic study shows that the same underlying factors that cause people to seek out the behaviors of coffee or alcohol consumption or smoking may also make them less likely to develop Parkinson's disease. The findings may point to a new, underlying risk factor that could be helpful in diagnosing and treating the disease.

The study is published in the November 14 issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The study of the medical records of 196 people with Parkinson's disease and 196 people without the disease revealed that coffee drinkers had less than half the risk for developing Parkinson's disease. Among those who did not have Parkinson's disease, 37 percent drank four or more cups per day while 21 percent of those with Parkinson's disease consumed four or more cups daily. Additionally, the average age of onset of the disease was eight years older for people who consumed coffee compared to those who never did.

"We need to emphasize that we do not know that coffee, alcohol or smoking have a protective affect for Parkinson's disease," says Demetrius Maraganore, M.D., a Mayo Clinic neurologist who co-authored the study. In animals, the brain chemical dopamine, which is lacking in the brains of Parkinson's disease patients, has been linked to "novelty seeking behavior."

While relationships similar to this also existed for alcohol consumption and smoking, overall the association was not statistically significant. However, extreme types of tobacco (chewing, snuff) and alcohol (diagnosed alcoholism) use were significantly less frequent in Parkinson's disease patients.

"We are in no way urging people to begin or increase their use of coffee, alcohol or tobacco," says Dr. Maraganore. "What this study shows is a pattern compatible with several hypotheses relating to personality:
*Individuals who will later develop Parkinson's disease may avoid behaviors that are addicting or that may jeopardize their health.

*Individuals who will later develop Parkinson's disease avoid coffee or smoking because they are intolerant to their pharmacologic stimulating effects.

*Individuals who will later develop Parkinson's disease would not experience the rewarding effect of smell involved in these consumption habits. There also may be a relationship between avoiding smoking and coffee and psychiatric conditions occurring in the preclinical phase of Parkinson's disease.

"Coffee, smoking and possibly alcohol could alternatively be inversely related to Parkinson's disease through a direct protective effect. This remains unproven," says Dr. Maraganore.

A study by the Honolulu Heart Study released earlier this year presented similar results and confirming results are expected to be published from the Harvard School of Public Health in upcoming months.
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Jane Jacobs
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Mayo Clinic

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