Berries May Fight Off Parkinson's Disease

According to a recent study, berries can help fight off Parkinson's disease. Who knew?

Parkinson's Disease is a degenerative nerve disease caused by cell-death in the brain. The result is shaking, rigidity, slow movement and, ultimately, dementia. In recent years, the struggles of boxer Muhammad Ali and actor Michael J. Fox with the disease have brought it to greater public awareness.

There's no cure for Parkinson's, but there are treatments for the symptoms --primarily surgery and certain medications. Doctors still have a poor understanding of how to prevent the onset of Parkinson's, but amazingly, a new study reveals that berries of all kinds may help.

The Basics

Before we go any further, let's get something straight: this isn't just hype, but these are preliminary results, based on an abstract presented at a medical conference in February 2011.

The researchers haven't yet published the data in a peer-reviewed journal. However, the National Institutes of Health supported the research, and the researchers themselves maintain good reputations in their fields.

Their research examined dietary data collected from 129,798 individuals in two cohort study groups: 49,627 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, and 80,171 women in the Nurses Health Study. These studies tracked the health of the participants over the course of 20 years.

A total of 805 individuals (0.62%) developed Parkinson's Disease during that time.

The Good News

A close examination of the dietary data revealed that the men who ate the largest amounts of fruit containing flavonoids, a class of plant pigments that tend to be beneficial to health, were less likely to develop Parkinson's than men who ate the smallest amounts of such fruit.

Oddly enough, the protection didn't seem to extend to women, a finding that the researchers have yet to explain.

However, when they looked at anthrocyanins, a specific category of flavonoid found in berries, they found that both men and women who ate the largest amounts of berries had a 22% lower risk of developing Parkinson's later in life.

A Few Cautions

As the researchers themselves point out, their results are preliminary and require further testing. That flavonoid gap for women must be explained yet, and it's possible that some other factor actually causes the apparent correlation between anthrocyanins and Parkinson's.

As the saying goes, there's a close correlation between fires and fire trucks, but fire trucks don't cause fires. So it'll take years before the researchers, and others trying to replicate their findings, determine for certain whether there's really a link between Parkinson's and berries or not.

Still, it's an intriguing possibility, worth paying attention to -- and we certainly will. Keep an eye on this site, and if we learn of any more news regarding the possibility that berries may help fight Parkinson's Disease, we'll let you know.

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