Page last updated: Tuesday, November 18, 2008
No clear link between alcohol and Parkinson’s disease
While some research suggests alcohol drinkers have a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease than abstainers, a study published in May suggests no clear association between drinking and Parkinson’s disease with the exception of moderate beer intake which might offer some protection. Because no alcohol other than beer was tied to a lower Parkinson’s risk, researchers suspect that a beer ingredient other than alcohol might bestow the benefit. Their report is published in the on-line edition of the Annals of Neurology.

Over the past few decades, researchers have debated whether cigarettes, coffee and alcohol can help stave off Parkinson’s disease, a movement disorder that arises from the loss of brain cells that produce the chemical dopamine. Several recent studies have produced strong evidence that cigarette smokers and caffeine consumers have some protection against Parkinson’s, and researchers believe it’s biologically plausible that tobacco smoke and caffeine might shield brain cells from the damage that marks the disease. But there is another possibility. Some scientists have suggested that the absence of these addictive behaviours-caffeine consumption, smoking and drinking might be a sign of a certain kind of personality, according to the authors of the new study, led by Dr. Miguel A. Hernan of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. "It has been hypothesized that people who are destined to develop Parkinson’s disease have a characteristic personality- moralistic, law-abiding, conscientious, risk averse, that leads them to avoid novelty seeking behaviours or that they have an underlying metabolism (genetic or as a result of a toxic insult early in life) that makes these behaviours particularly unrewarding to them," the researchers explain. If this hypothesis is correct, then drinking, smoking and caffeine consumption should all appear to reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s, Dr. Alberto Ascherio, a study co-author also at Harvard, comments"Our result does not support that," Ascherio said in an interview. "Indirectly," he added, "it supports the idea that caffeine and something in cigarette smoke is protective." Currently, there are ongoing studies to look at the effects of caffeine in people who already have Parkinson’s, Ascherio noted.

The researchers looked at data from two large, long-running U.S. studies the Nurses’ Health and the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Studies. After examining information from nearly 89,000 women and 47,000 men, the researchers found "little association between total alcohol consumption and Parkinson’s disease incidence," according to the report. When they broke the data down into different types of alcohol, people who drank moderate amounts of beer showed a 30% lower risk of Parkinson’s. But, the authors write, "because this lower risk was not found among wine or liquor drinkers, it is possible that some components of beer, other than (alcohol), may reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease."

SOURCE: Annals of Neurology 2003;54.Alcohol consumption and the incidence of Parkinson’s disease Miguel A. Hernán, MD, DrPH 1 et al . Email: Miguel A. Hernán (

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