Strange but true: People who smoke cigarettes are less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder that causes tremors, difficulty with movement, and depression.
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This is no reason to light up, as the harmful effects of smoking far outweigh any benefit. However, what researchers have discovered is that the tobacco plant is part of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, which includes peppers – not to mention other veggies like cauliflower, eggplant, potatoes and tomatoes.
Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle quizzed newly diagnosed Parkinson’s patients as well as neurologically normal people about their eating habits and found that people who eat more peppers have a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s.
“The finding that peppers may reduce the relative risk of developing Parkinson’s disease is interesting,” says neurologist Michal Gostkowski, DO. “I think the research still needs to show whether it’s one compound or several specific compounds and specific ratios to reduce the risk for Parkinson’s disease. We will also need to know whether raw peppers are best versus cooked peppers.”
Dr. Gostkowski wonders if the cooking process could change the compound or compounds involved in creating this protective effect.
“I would not discourage patients from increasing their sweet pepper consumption,” he adds.
Other studies, caveats
Other studies have suggested that people who eat a lot of berries, apples and oranges also enjoy a reduced risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.
Research into how our brains react to nicotine and how this protects against Parkinson’s — and possibly other neurodegenerative conditions – is ongoing. However, Dr. Gostkowski warns against viewing this new information as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease.
“I fear that some patients will take this research and focus exclusively on sweet peppers, and avoid medications which are effective,” he says. “The best treatment to delay the effects of Parkinson’s disease is intense exercise.”
Parkinson’s patients who have been “forced” to exercise at a higher intensity than they normally would choose on their own show greater brain activity and improved symptoms. And people who exercise intensely seem to have a reduced risk of developing the disease in the first place.
So go ahead and snack on those peppers if you’re worried about Parkinson’s. And eat a handful of berries, too, while you’re at it! But whether you’re hoping to prevent Parkinson’s or have already been diagnosed, your best bet is an intense cardio workout.