Vitamin E May Reduce Risk of Parkinson's Disease

BACKGROUND: Parkinson's disease affects an estimated 1 million Americans, and about 60,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. The average age of onset is 60 years, although it does strike younger people. The disease is characterized by a significant decline in brain production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Symptoms include a rigid torso combined with tremors in the arms and legs, along with poor balance and coordination. The standard pharmaceutical treatment, L-dopa, significantly increases the patient's risk of dementia within 10 years.

RESEARCH: U.S. researchers analyzed the dietary habits of 371 diagnosed cases of Parkinson's disease among 76,890 women in the Nurses' Health Study and 47,331 men in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. The women were tracked for 14 years, and the men were followed for 12 years.

RESULTS: Men and women who consumed the most vitamin E from foods had a 32 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease than subjects who consumed the least vitamin E from foods. A similar study, conducted five years ago in the Netherlands, found a similar relationship. Use of vitamin E supplements was not related to the risk of Parkinson's disease. In addition, there was no association found between the intakes of vitamin C and carotenoids and risk of Parkinson's disease.

IMPLICATIONS: Although this study does not show a direct cause and effect, it strongly suggests that a high long-term intake of vitamin E-rich foods may reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease.

Zhang SM, Hernan MA, Chen H, et al, "Intakes of vitamins E and C, carotenoids, vitamin supplements, and PD risk," Neurology, 2002;59:1161- 1169.

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