by Martha A. Nance, M.D., medical director, Struthers Parkinson’s Center, an NPF Center of Excellence

An apple a day…keeps Parkinson’s disease away?

But only if you are a man.

This is the bottom line of a report published (by X. Gao, et al) in Neurology April 10, entitled “Habitual intake of dietary flavonoids and risk of Parkinson’s disease.” This remarkable study looked at information obtained from two very large studies; the Nurse’s Health Study (80,000 women), and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (about 50,000 men).

Participants in these studies have completed annual questionnaires about their diet (among many other things) since the 1980s. By this time, 805 participants have developed Parkinson’s disease. Based on how much of what kinds of foods the participants said they ate, the researchers estimated their intake of compounds called “flavonoids,” and found that the 20 percent of people who had the greatest intake of flavonoids had a 40 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than the 20 percent of people who had the least intake of flavonoids.

But they only found a significant difference in the study of men—not in the study of women. When they examined specific foods that are known to contain flavonoids, the most dramatic disease-risk lowering effect was for men who had five or more servings of apples per week. Drinking tea, red wine or orange juice did not have a noticeable effect on the risk of Parkinson’s disease. Higher intake of berries (strawberries and blueberries), which contain flavonoid pigments called anthocyanins, also lowered PD risk.

The article was accompanied by a nice editorial by Walter Kukull, Ph.D., which explained all the possible flaws in the research. It is a little difficult to explain why noticeable results were found in men, but not women. Was there a difference in how the research studies were done that obscured any benefits that women might actually be getting from these kinds of foods? Or is there something different about what causes Parkinson’s disease in women? Or is there something else that apple-eating men do or have, that is really the thing that lowers the risk? The researchers checked for things such as alcohol use, caffeine intake and cigarette smoking, but they couldn’t check for everything!

So, maybe these interesting results will hold up in future studies and maybe they won’t. But, short of biting into a worm (!), it’s hard to imagine that eating an apple a day is going to hurt you. Gentlemen, start munching! And, if you get tired of apples, sprinkle some berries on your cereal or ice cream. And ladies, even if we don’t have proof that eating apples and berries lower the risk of PD in women, nobody thinks that it is harmful.

So, go ahead—indulge!

Note: The information included on this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Readers should always consult their own health care provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation. Readers should also contact their own providers if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this blog does not create a physician-patient relationship.

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